Death Penalty PR

The following post is adapted from a post on my political blog last month.

In all the hubbub surrounding the execution of Troy Davis, there was little mention of another execution taking place in Texas on the same day:

As Texas prepares to execute one of his father’s killers, Ross Byrd hopes the state shows the man the mercy his father, James Byrd Jr., never got when he was dragged behind a truck to his death.

“You can’t fight murder with murder,” Ross Byrd, 32, told Reuters late Tuesday, the night before Wednesday’s scheduled execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer for one of the most notorious hate crimes in modern times.

“Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can’t hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn’t what we want.”

Brewer is scheduled to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. local time in Huntsville, Texas.

His pending execution comes 10 years after Governor Rick Perry signed into law the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, strengthening punishments for hate crimes.

An avowed white supremacist, Brewer, 44, was one of three white men convicted of capital murder in the kidnapping and killing of Byrd Jr., in June 1998.

The death of James Byrd Jr. made national headlines in 1998, but the death of one of his murders was barely mentioned.

I’ve been wondering in the midst of all the hue and cry against Troy Davis’ execution, why we didn’t hear anything from anybody on this death.

I think I know the answer.

Troy Davis was portrayed as a sympathetic character. It also helped that he was African American and let’s face it, the American penal system seems to like to lock up, if not execute black people more than whites.

And let’s face it, Lawrence Brewer wasn’t a loveable character.

It’s easy to feel sadness for someone that has been characterized as someone that just might be innocent. Death penalty opponents are good at finding people who people can feel a pang of sympathy for and connect with. Focusing on the Troy Davises of the world helps people see the cruelty of capital punishment.

But the fact is, most of the folks that come before the electric chair or lethal injection are more than likely guilty as sin like Brewer was. Davis makes people wonder about the legitamacy of the policy. Brewer confirms in the minds of many that this is the right thing to do.

So for those of us who oppose the death penalty, how do we deal with the fact that some of the people who are facing the needle are actually guilty? How do we deal with the fact that some of these folks are really mean and nasty people. How do we oppose the act and still stand with the victims of this crime?  Jesus called us to love our enemies, but that doesn’t mean we should over look the sin.

I guess I wish that Christians who oppose the death penalty would deal more with these “hard cases.”  I wish that we would realize that the way of Jesus is frickin’ hard and at times seems damn unfair.  It’s easy to preach love and forgiveness when it’s someone like Troy Davis- it’s damn hard to do that when faced with a racist like Lawrence Brewer.

In the end, I still can’t support the death penalty. One reason is that we can never be totally certain that someone is guilty. But another reason is that I think killing by the state is something that has to be done sparingly (such as war or law enforcement). I would rather take away someone’s liberty than take their life even if they are reprehensible.


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