Today’s Nashville City Paper featured an excellent article written by John Rodgers reporting from the Promptness Sub-Committee meeting of the Committee to Study the Administration of the Death Penalty. You can read more about the sub-committee meetings in previous blog posts. Read the Nashville City Paper article by clicking HERE.
The article keys in on the lengthiness associated with the death penalty process and the conversation that long time frame elicits amongst proponents and opponents. Important stakeholders, the family members of murder victims, share varying viewpoints when it comes to the death penalty. While it seems that proponents are in favor of capital punishment due to a desire to see such punishment meted out and to receive a sense of finality, they are growing skeptical of a system that takes decades to reach fruition.
“Verna Wyatt, the executive director of You Have the Power, a victim’s advocacy group, said making the families of victims wait oftentimes decades for the killer of their loved one to be put to death is “re-victimizing the victim … for years and years.”
“I would like to say to Tennesseans — if you don’t think the death penalty is an appropriate punishment, then let’s not give it out because giving out a sentence of death, the victims families wait forever to get their justice,” Wyatt said. “So if Tennesseans don’t think that this is an appropriate punishment — then we shouldn’t be giving it out. We shouldn’t’t even be asking for it.”
I believe that Wyatt’s sentiments are right on target. The state is making a promise to families that it simply cannot keep. Another approach that some victims’ families take is the one chosen by the Strobel family. Charlie Strobel’s mother was murdered and as opponents of the death penalty, Strobel and his family asked that prosecutors not to seek the death penalty for the murderer.
“Strobel’s mother was murdered and he said his family received closure quicker because they told prosecutors they did not want the killer executed.
Instead, three life sentences without parole were handed down, Strobel said.
“It just is awfully, awfully painful to hear that people are stuck waiting for a justice that doesn’t close anything,” Strobel said, adding that the state should help families understand the appellate process better.
In other Tennessee death penalty news, the US Supreme Court has taken the case of EJ Harbison on “whether poor death row inmates seeking mercy from state officials have a right to lawyers paid for by federal taxpayers.” Read more about this by clicking HERE.
How does one forgive the murderer of their loved one? How does one find peace and reconciliation in an act of anger and violence? I have trouble answering these questions, but I am fortunate enough to know someone that can–Hector Black.
Last night in Knoxville, TN, just over 30 folks at the University of Tennessee Black Cultural Center convened to hear Hector speak. The event was planned and realized through the hard work of Knoxville TCASK chapter members who got the word out, did the media work, and were on hand to help sign folks up to TCASK’s mailing list. When Hector speaks of his feelings towards a violent act between one human being and another, he says that “in doing so, we are only harming ourselves, we are all souls existing in this world together, hurting someone else is hurting yourself.” The audience’s age, education, beliefs on the death penalty may have been diverse but a commonality exists in our fellow human beings. Hector brings that unspoken camaraderie out more than anyone I’ve ever known. He has the ability to bring strangers together and make them feel as if they’ve known each other for years–even when talking about a painful issue like capital punishment.
Hector’s daughter Patricia was brutally murdered in November 2000 by Ivan Simpson. It was a murder deemed worthy of the death penalty. The District Attorney wanted to seek the death penalty, but Hector and his wife, Susie, asked him not to. Hector’s initial reaction to the news of his daughter’s murder was an immediate desire to kill the man. I know I’ve heard my own father say that if anyone took my life or my sister’s that he would hunt them down. This is how strong a parent’s love is for their children. However, we must remember what love is. “I know that love does not seek revenge. We do not want a life for a life. Love seeks healing, peace and wholeness. Hatred can never overcome hatred. Only love can overcome hatred and violence. Love is that light. It is that candle that cannot be extinguished by all the darkness and hatred in the world.” That statement was taken from Hector’s victim impact statement at the trial of Ivan Simpson.
During the question and answer session after Hector spoke, he received one of the tougher questions I’ve heard posed to a murder victim’s family member. A young woman asked Hector “if a family does support capital punishment, and their daughter is murdered, do you believe that they have the right to ask for it?” Hector answered by saying that “it is their right to ask for it and I can certainly understand the pain that parents are experiencing at that moment, but we must understand that in asking for the death penalty we are asking for revenge, we are not solving the problem, but only furthering it.”
All too often folks against the death penalty are depicted as taking the “moral high ground.” We are depicted as a contingent that relishes in our moral superiority. Although this may be true to some anti-death penalty folks, Hector is not one of them. Hector understands what anger is, he experienced it. He understands what loss is, he suffered the ultimate loss. But he also understands that everyone does not think the same exact way. People will respond differently when posed with the same situation. What is important to Hector is that we remember that although our opinions might be different, we are all human beings together, and that harming one another only serves to harm thyself.