Time To Stop Tinkering With the Machinery of Death
This February, Betsy Wolfenden of Carrboro, North Carolina, wrote the Washington Post:
"My husband--who is on death row--and I have four children. Our children have suffered greatly because of the actions of their father. Although our children recognize that their father did something terribly wrong, they still love and need their dad.
"The...children whose parents are on death row...suffer in silence. I know of one 9-year-old who writes on his calendar, 'Daddy dies today,' each time his father receives a new execution date....
"...I would like to tell the families who have been harmed by the murders committed by our loved ones that we understand the pain they are feeling because we feel that pain, too. Their children are innocent victims--but so are ours. I pray that all children whose parents have been murdered will find comfort and peace. But my children may also lose their dad to murder, and I wonder who will weep for them."
That's what Betsy Wolfenden wrote.
Now, of course, I do not seek to absolve this man, or any murderer, for his or her wrongs. But neither can our righteous anger with those wrongs blind us to the unnecessary further wrong that will be done these innocent children.
Because we should always strive, in this imperfect world, that no innocent child should have to bewail the loss of a parent to killing, the killing must stop.
Because the death penalty has become, in Justice Benjamin Cardozo's words, "an anachronism too discordant to be suffered, mocking with grim reproach all our clamorous professions of the sanctity of life," the killing must stop.
Because, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The old law of an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind," the killing must stop.
When he retired from his long career of supporting the death penalty, the late Justice Lewis Powell told his biographer in 1991: "I have come to think that capital punishment should be abolished."
And in a 1994 dissent, the late Justice Harry Blackmun wrote: "From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death. For more than twenty years I have...struggled...to develop...rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty.... Rather than continue to coddle the Court's delusion that...fairness has been achieved..., I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed."
Like Justices Powell and Blackmun, let us reconsider our nation's position, and stop the tinkering with the machinery of death. Let us stop the killing to protect the innocent who have all too often been condemned to die. Let us stop the killing to join the civilized world in its progress from the barbaric past. Let us stop the killing so as not to reopen again and again the ancient wounds of racial discrimination. Let us stop the killing to honor the value of human life. And let us stop the killing to demonstrate once and for all that, not just with our eyes, we finally can see.