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Tag: revenge

a tale of two florida prosecutors

a tale of two florida prosecutors

1) Miami-Dade prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle declined to press charges in the case of Darren Rainey, a schizophrenic prison inmate who died in June 2012 after being locked in a hot shower for two hours, saying that “the evidence does not show that Rainey’s well-being was grossly disregarded by the correctional staff.”


witnesses [interviewed by the Miami Herald] including a nurse on duty that night, and several inmates interviewed by the Herald over the past two years, have said that two corrections officers, Cornelius Thompson and Roland Clark, forced Rainey into an enclosed, locked shower stall and that the water had been cranked as high as 180 degrees from a neighboring room, where the heat controls were. … Rainey screamed in terror and begged to be let out for more than an hour until he collapsed and died.


when his body was pulled out, nurses said there were burns on 90 percent of his body. A nurse said his body temperature was too high to register with a thermometer. And his skin fell off at the touch.

Rainey was serving a two-year sentence for cocaine possession.

When a mentally-ill minor drug offender is imprisoned, does he forfeit all his rights, all his human rights, including the right to live? Who protects him? (If not us?) Who will ensure him justice? (If not us?)

2) Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced last Thursday that she will not pursue death sentences for any capital cases during her time in office. That earned her a angry rebuke from Florida governor Rick Scott who removed from her jurisdiction the high profile case of a man charged with killing a police officer, saying she “has made it clear that she will not fight for justice.”

Because only a death satisfies justice? If blood revenge is the only means of “fighting for justice” (which is what the death penalty is, after all, blood revenge), what does that say about us?

Death sentences are notoriously inequitable in their application, do not provide any deterrence, cost taxpayers more, do not bring “resolution” to grieving families, rather, and as Ayala observed, “cases drag on for years, adding to victims’ anguish.” Could it be that refusing to pursue death sentences is in fact “fighting for justice?” Because the question remains, beyond any concerns about fairness and effectiveness, is killing by the state just? Or is it an overreach and abuse of power and a corrosive threat to our humanity?

Which of these prosecutors is fighting for justice? Which showed courage? Which represents the best of who we are as human beings?

killing bin laden

killing bin laden

Yes, Osama bin Laden did evil things. Yes, he despoiled the image of God that was put in him as well as in each of us. But if we allow his choices to change our choices, to make us people ready to kill — for the sake of “closure,” for the sake of “justice,” for the sake of “revenge” — then we have done the same. We have despoiled the image of God in us.

Strength, courage, and righteousness mean living the values we hold dear and not allowing ourselves to be transformed in reaction to the chaos and brokenness and evil around us.

When we are better than that, when we can uphold the value of life, all life, when we can love the humanity in any human being, even in a man consumed by evil, then we reveal something truly extraordinary, the likeness of the living God.

And so I did not find reason to celebrate this weekend over the news of bin Laden’s death. It was an occasion not for joy, but for sadness at the ongoing price all of humanity is paying for the hatred and suspicion and vengefulness that set us against each other.

justice stevens disavows the death penalty

justice stevens disavows the death penalty

In an opinion released on Wednesday, United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:

I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents “the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes. A penalty with such negligible returns to the state (is) patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment violative of the Eighth Amendment.”

Absolutely right …

It is difficult for me to discern even a “marginal” contribution to the public good. What does the death penalty accomplish, except to satisfy an unholy desire for retribution or revenge? It does not make people better or society safer. On the contrary, it reinforces a culture of violence and encourages the least helpful — and the least noble — impulses in a victimized society.

As a nation that proclaims itself a defender of liberty and human rights, it would only be right for us to lead the rest of the world toward the total abolition of the death penalty, but we aren’t. We aren’t leading. We’re not even following.

a prayer for good friday

a prayer for good friday

Lord Jesus, forgive us for all the ways we deny you …

… by remaining quiet in the shadows, not daring to speak our faith in the public arena
… by quietly going about our own business, while neglecting to wonder what your business might be
… by being more American than Christian, more the children of our culture than the children of God
… by adopting a lifestyle and a system of values that are indistinguishable from the rest of the world, pursuing wealth instead of justice, accumulating things instead of sharing generously, protecting ourselves whatever the cost instead of showing mercy whatever the cost
… by approving of revenge, calling it “being tough on crime” or “protecting our national interest”
… by approving of greed, calling it “the entreprenurial spirit” or “the natural workings of a market economy”
… by approving of hate, calling it “defending the faith” or “protecting family values”

Forgive us, Lord Jesus …

We know that you will. We know that you will never deny us. We know that you will welcome us with joy when we confess our sins and confess our need of you. We know that you know that we do love you and want to learn to love you better.

May it be so. May we love you as you have loved us and love us still … and may we show it by refusing to deny you.

a sick and perverted spectacle

a sick and perverted spectacle

A sick and perverted spectacle …

Those are the words Stanley Tookie Williams used to characterize his impending execution. Williams was executed early this morning, after appeals for a stay of execution were denied by the California Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court, and after a plea for clemency was rejected by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It was a sick and perverted spectacle …

… not because an innocent man was put to death. It is entirely possible that Williams did not commit the murders for which he was convicted; he always maintained his innocence. Or, as is likely and most believe, he really did do the crimes. Either way, it doesn’t matter.

… not because a changed man, a redeemed man, a man doing society much good was put to death. He may well have become a transformed man, a good man; those nominating him for Nobel Prizes for peace and literature certainly thought so. Or maybe it was all a fraud or a too convenient way to earn pity and support. Either way, it doesn’t matter.

… not because the courts or the governor failed to step in and acknowledge his transformation and show him mercy. They were simply doing their job, interpreting and enforcing the law as it stands. It doesn’t matter.

No, what matters is the law itself, the law of the land that permits this most cruel and unusual punishment. That law is sick and perverted and must be changed. That law accomplishes no useful purpose other than retribution — society exacting its revenge and satisfying its blood lust against those who have done it injury, whether real or perceived. That law diminishes our humanity, devalues human life, and damages the integrity of our advocacy of human rights.

Our need for revenge (a need that can never be satisfied) is a sickness, a sickness that eats away at the soul of our society and only proliferates a culture of violence. Our demand for the forfeiture of a life is a perversion, a perversion of the values and principles for which we claim to stand — justice, mercy, freedom, generosity, the precedence of right over might, and inalienable human dignity.

It was a sick and perverted spectacle …

a moral imperative for victims?

a moral imperative for victims?

When hateful people produce lasting hatred in us … hate wins. When violent people make us violent … violence wins. When cruel people leave us with nothing but a burning desire for revenge in our minds and hearts … cruelty wins. When evil done to us gives birth to evil done by us … evil wins.

As I drove to work this morning, I listened to reports on NPR of the Israeli pullout from the Gaza strip. I heard interviews with militant Palestinians who credited the pullout to the armed resistance alone, giving no credit to the political process, showing no support for the diplomatic efforts of their own leadership, calling only for more violence to oust Israel from the West Bank as well. It was most disheartening.

It was disheartening to see once more that steps toward peace — baby steps though they may be — do so little (do nothing!) to soften the hardened and entrenched hatred of one people for another, do so little (do nothing?) to change the tide of history and move people toward rapprochement.

Is there a moral imperative for victims? Or does their victimization “excuse” whatever choices they may make? Can we expect the victim of oppression to show grace and mercy and restraint and maybe even love to the oppressor? Or is that a preposterous expectation?

There can be no shalom until victimizer and victim alike are set free from the cycle of oppression. There can be no shalom until the oppressors humble themselves before God and until the oppressed humble themselves before God. There can be no shalom until God does it … and until we are ready to let God do it!