Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On the Execution of John Allen Muhammad

As I sit writing this, a man is about to be murdered. The killing is all but being shown on national television. It is being done with cheerleaders, and not a single dissenting voice. A Roman crowd, calling for an execution. I feel sick watching it.

At this moment, the drugs are, in all likelihood, coursing through the veins of John Allen Muhammed. The man, almost without doubt, committed heinous crimes, and is guilty of the unconscionable crime of taking another life. Now he is about to pay for it.

And we’re cutting to commercial: a commodification of human suffering and death, in a way more real and shameless than your average Tuesday news coverage. The irony is not lost on me that the first commercial is for China, perhaps the single largest human rights violator in the world.

As Muhammad is put to sleep, paralyzed and has his heart stopped, I can’t help but reflect, on the irony of the situation, apart from the China ads. We sit glued to the TV watching the talking heads, and all we see are voices calling for revenge, seeking their own personal gratification through killing. They say “justice” but they mean “vengence.” They seek to make themselves feel better through killing a man who is no longer a threat to anyone. They seek pleasure through killing. Is this not worse than feeling nothing at a death?

We wonder why the death penalty has such wide support here in the United States. We alone of the first world, as a society, murder our own citizens. And here on TV, we see why. The execution gets nothing but encouragement. One says Muhammad is going to shake hands with satan, one talks of how he wishes he could push the button, one says he wishes he could execute the seventeen year old child who also participated in the horror.

And we hold ourselves up as the “moral leader” of the world. Please.

At 9:11pm on November 10, 2009, John Allen Muhammad is pronounced dead. There were cheers from many. I am disgusted.

The greatest irony in all of this borders on the comical. Muhammad, the famed “Beltway Sniper” was trained in his art by the government who tried so hard to murder him.

Stepping out of my obvious staunch anti-murder belief, it would appear there are very few more fit to be put to death than John Allen Muhammad. He was guilty almost beyond conceivable doubt, and the crimes he committed were unconscionable. He felt no remorse for his crimes, or at least he claimed to feel nothing. He attacked at random, leaving not even the meanest justification for taking the lives of those he cut down. As many would say, he had it coming. And they will sleep well, knowing he has entered eternity.

Cases such as John Allen Muhammad’s will never be effectively used to convince people the death penalty is an expensive, ineffective, cruel and inhuman punishment. Cases such as that of Cameron Todd Willingham, an almost certainly innocent man executed in Texas for allegedly murdering his daughers (whom he lost in a fire) in spite of absolutely overwhelming evidence of evidence of true innocence, will always work. With an innocent man murdered in our name after a pathetic defense, and shameless political wrangling from the Governor attempting to cover his own political future by burying exculpatory evidence, it shows everything that is wrong with the Capital Punishment system in America. Willingham, however, has in death the sympathy of millions, and elicits uncomfortable feelings even in the staunchest death penalty advocates. Muhammad’s killing elicits a sense of sick pleasure.

One of those executions shows America as a misguided society trying to work, albeit slowly, towards justice.

One shows us at our worst, collectively relishing the act of killing.

I believe the latter reveals far more about who we are.

And it embarrasses me.

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