Now that the Supremes have cleared the decks to begin the nasty business of administrative murder again, I went back
and re-read an essay I’d put together a couple of years ago. I think it’s held up well. Originally published here by the
Council for Secular Humanism.
I’d be interested in y’all’s opinions.
“Every society has the criminals it deserves.”
Camus, ‘Reflections on the Guillotine’
My sister would have been terrified, the night her junkie boyfriend beat her to death in that filthy motel room. Terrified, and disoriented; she would have been struggling to understand what was happening to her. Beating a human being to death is apparently not an easy thing to do. According to the coroner’s testimony, it took about five minutes for her to die. What was she thinking, in those five minutes? At what point in that five-minute period did she suspect she might die in that squalid room? At what point did she know she would die there, and then?
I would lay awake at night, for months after her death, unable to turn off the endless broken loop playing in my brain that kept repeating these questions. More than answers, I wanted revenge: hard, bloody-fisted revenge, bitter and uncompromising Old Testament revenge. More: I wanted to stand before those in power, point my finger at all the world’s Death Rows, and scream at the top of my lungs “Kill them all, and let God sort them out!” I was slowly going mad with my ache for revenge.
But. But. Revenge is not justice.
During the worst of my dark night of the soul, I came across an old friend who I had not thought about in years, decades: Albert Camus. I found myself re-reading his seminal essay, “Reflections on the Guillotine” (found in the closeout bin of a used bookstore). I read that tired, used old paperback copy until it literally fell apart in my hands. Camus’ demand that one must apply one’s reason to the question of ‘administrative murder’ finally penetrated my grief and my hate. Despite how I feel – indeed, because of how I feel – I am compelled to stand against the death penalty. It is important to discuss why.