This morning on NPR Tookie Williams’ execution was described as a "medical procedure" by a witness who was interviewed for the morning radio show. A medical procedure. I thought medicine was intended to support life, not end it. However, his death certificate will likely tell a different story. As in previous executions, the death certificate will identify the cause of death as "homocide."
Was Tookie Williams’ execution a medical procedure or a homocide? It seems pretty clear to me. And though most of us were asleep and not thinking about this planned killing, this experience brought me back several years to when I stood among protestors at an execution in Illinois. We stood there, outside the prison, completely unable to intervene or stop the killing that would take place. It seems to me that we (Christians, humans, people of all faiths) are called to help, save, support, lift up, and otherwise intervene on the side of life in all matters, all situations, all circumstances. Even the life of a convicted killer. But we can’t do that when it comes to the death penalty. When the state chooses to take someone’s life, we can only pray to God for forgiveness of sins, healing and new life for all, and wait for the moment when a sinful yet redeemed child of God would be killed by the state. (Yes, I said "child of God," even though most death penalty supporters would have you believe that these people being executed are monsters. I have yet to read a study that shows that criminals undergo an ontological change, a DNA transformation, that makes them into monsters. From what I understand they are humans and children of God, just like you and me).
Our society isn’t any safer the day after Tookie Williams’ execution than it was the day before. Society and justice are served once the guilty is taken off the street and locked up – for life, if that is the court’s directive. But society is not served or made safer by the death penalty. It serves no practical purpose.
Well, perhaps in some perverted way the death penalty can help us reach out to other death penalty countries – notably Syria, Iran, Yemen, Lybia – by emphasizing what we share in common. Who said that we don’t have a strategy for reaching out to these countries?