Last night I got into a bit of a dust-up on Facebook. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t go looking for confrontation. In general, I’d rather run than fight. Actually, I don’t run, but I try to “work things out.” I just hate fighting. But last night a woman who is really only a “Facebook Friend” (friend of a friend, I’ve talked to her several times at parties, and she requested to be my FB Friend), posted something last night, I couldn’t ignore it. Basically, she wrote in her status that she wouldn’t be losing any sleep over John Allen Muhammad’s execution scheduled for last night
John Allen Muhammad was “The DC Sniper” who was executed in Virginia last night.
I am always surprised at the number of otherwise intelligent Americans who support the death penalty. But then again, lately Americans have been really astounding in their stupidity, so I guess this shouldn’t surprise me too much. To me, this statement by Amnesty International could not be more clear or to the point:
The death penalty is the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights.
John Muhammad was convicted of murder, and the argument of my “friend” and the mob who backed her up was that he lost his rights when he killed. However, I don’t think you ever “lose” your rights. Not in America. Your actions — no matter how heinous, as Muhammad’s terrorizing of the the DC area was — these actions do not give the state the right to violate the most basic human right.
I don’t defend anything that Muhammad did — he murdered several people and terrorized and entire region of the country. He terrorized me, as well. I was in my second year of teaching in Baltimore, my parents were down the road in Northern Virginia. We all looked over our shoulders, we all scanned the buildings and other parked cars nearby. I actually zig-zagged as I walked when I couldn’t avoid parking in an open area.
But no one deserves to be killed. Muhammad’s victims didn’t deserve it, and neither did he.
There are a few things about Muhammad that the mob calling out a virtual “hang him!” conveniently ignores:
(1) There is evidence that John Allen Muhammad suffered from serious mental illness, including severe brain dysfunction probably stemming from a childhood of abuse including “beatings with hoses and electrical cords, denial of food, clothing and basic necessities, and suffering on a scale difficult to imagine.”
(2) Muhammad was a Gulf War veteran, and his mental illness certainly was made worse as a result of what is known as “Gulf War syndrome, from which he suffered as a result of his “service as a sergeant during the first Gulf War, the lawyers said. They said a juror in the case would not have sentenced him to death had she known he was severely mentally ill.”
(3) State and federal prosecutors shopped around potential states in which to hold the trial, and chose to prosecute Muhammad in Virginia rather than other states where he was convicted of murder because of Virginia’s record as an “efficient” executions state, and because “Prosecutors relied on untested Virginia terrorism laws that allowed them to seek convictions even if they couldn’t prove which of the two suspects fired the gun.”
Which means that even though he was convicted and put to death, this nasty truth remains:
“Law enforcement officials … cannot say for sure who specifically fired the fatal shots.”
This is a sad and painful story, all the more so because it comes on Veterans Day, and because we have just witnessed the horrors done to innocent people by another of our veterans, who also suffered from mental illness. There is so much pain and suffering in this world, we must not perpetuate it by allowing government executions to continue in the United States. Our soldiers fight all over the globe under the mantel of bringing liberty and justice for all. Not, as one commenter in the Facebook fiasco last night wrote “Civil justice is for civil people.”
We tell children that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” It’s really as simple as that.