Thursday, July 13, 2006


A Balancing Act

Yesterday afternoon, the TCASK staff (yes, all two of us) participated in a conference call with abolitionist and victims' advocates from around the country, devoted to the issue of victim orientation in our movement. All too often, abolitionists are portrayed as being "for the offenders" and therefore "against the victims". Now we all know that this isn't true, and to claim that we at TCASK don't feel compassion and care for those who have lost a loved one to murder simply isn't true.

Nonetheless, as the recent execution of Sedley Alley and near execution of Paul Dennis Reid demonstrate, it is necessary for TCASK and all abolitionists, to become more victim focused in our approach. And it is also the right thing to do.

It isn't hard to see that the death penalty can be very harmful to victims' families. A system that drags out the worst moment of a person's life, forcing them to re-live it again and again over the course of 10, 15, or 20 years is simply not a way to promote healing for victims' family members. In fact, it runs the very serious risk of re-traumatizing them. Some people will suggest that this calls for an expedited death penalty, but those people have to remember that, with 123 exonerations in the modern era of executions, the faster you make the process, the greater the risk of executing innocents.

Still, we have a long way to go to make ourselves more truly victim centered, but this also leads us to an interesting balancing act. We don't believe that people on death row are monsters or unworthy of life, and we have to resist the societal depictions of them as such. At the same time, we do no good for victims if we minimize the crimes committed by those facing a death sentence. It is important for us to acknowledge the pain an loss associated with murders. But it is equally important for us to refuse to allow another life to be taken. This is not an easy line to walk.

I am continually inspired by those who have lost loved ones to murder and have found the strength to speak out against state killing. People like Hector Black (featured earlier this week on the blog), Regina Hockett, and Charlie Strobel right here in Tennessee offer us a new model for dealing with loss. But every person grieves differently and heals at a different rate, seeking to find some peace after a loss that those of us who have not had a loved one murdered will never understand. When we talk about the death penalty and advocate for abolition, we can never afford to lose sight of this.
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