"An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” --Mahatma Gandhi
It was 631 days ago this week. Boston Marathon Monday. Patriots Day. April 15, 2013. Seems like a lifetime has passed since then. Seems like yesterday too.
It was a bright and clear and sunny early spring Monday in Massachusetts, crisp air, sharp blue skies, the kind of day we love in these parts, when life seems to bloom again after a long and hard winter. It was our day here in the Bay State, in the leafy suburbs of eastern Massachusetts, on the raucous crowd lined streets of Boston.
It was an awful day, the worst day ever for so many. At 2:49 pm the first of two bombs exploded near the marathon finish line. More than 260 people were injured. Seventeen people lost limbs. Three died and a fourth victim was gunned down days later. Then a region wide manhunt and a “stay in place” order for thousands of us, a shoot out on a side street in Watertown, one bomber suspect killed, another captured.
It was a miraculous day of amazing heroism, courage and selflessness, the best of Boston, Boston strong. Police rushing towards the explosions to save, to comfort, to rescue. Civilians caring for the wounded. Leaders rallying a populace. And then after, a compassionate and generous outpouring of prayers and support and money, hundreds of millions of dollars for those who suffered and still suffer.
One year, eight months and 22 days later. Monday, January 5th, 2015.
The trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev starts here in Boston, just a few miles from the scene of his “alleged” crimes. Journalism rules require I refer to Tsarnaev as a “suspect” but I’m sure he is guilty of his crimes, acts of terror so cruel, hateful, and sociopathic. I believe he deserves to take full responsibility for what he and his brother did, in their warped and twisted ideology of religion and anger. Justice demands that he answer for his actions.
But not with his life. Not this day. Not any day.
That’s what’s really being decided at the trial: if Tsarnaev is convicted, will the United States federal government put him to death and take away his life. Even though Massachusetts has not had a death penalty since 1982, has not put anyone to death since 1947, Tsarnaev is being tried in federal court, and prosecutors have indicated they will seek capital punishment.
There are many legitimate reasons to for death. The level of mass destruction and carnage the bombings wrought. The ongoing suffering of folks who lost a loved one or lost a limb, had their lives changed forever in an instant. Deterrence for those who might imagine carrying out a similar act. Equality of punishment: take a life you give up your right to live.
I get these arguments.
There are also many legitimate reasons to argue that he should instead be locked up for life, no hope of parole, imprisoned until the day he leaves this earth. The fact that the Bay State has no death penalty. That a post bombing poll indicates a clear majority of Bostonians (57 percent) favor a life sentence for Tsarnaev, with 33 percent supporting his execution. In interviews with the bombing victims and families of the deceased, their opinions are mixed, no clear consensus. Worldwide and nationwide the use of the death penalty by governments is in a steep decline.
I get these arguments too.
Yet finally I oppose Tsarnaev’s execution, for by putting him to death, we as a society respond to violence with more violence. We allow the desire for revenge to rule our hearts and souls. We imagine his death as one ultimate act of closure but the truth is that none will ever be found. And most sad, by calling for his execution, we as a people will not add one iota of love, or mercy, or compassion or peace to this fragile world that we call home. The God I love compels me to oppose the death penalty in any and all circumstances, because if we are to rid this world of fear, anger and bloodshed, it has to start with us. Who we are as human beings, one to another. How we live with and treat those among us, even the ones like Tsarnaev. An eye for an eye? It does finally make the whole world blind.
It was an April day long ago. Now we come to these profound days, to make the choice as a community between life or death, peace or violence. I pray that we’ll choose life. I pray that we’ll choose peace.