Atwood: We are all guilty of homicide

Here is David Atwood’s commentary in today’s Austin American Statesman.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Texas has carried out 24 executions this year. It would have been 25, but Charles Nealy narrowly missed the executioner’s needle on Nov. 16. No other state in the Union had more than five executions; 46 states had one or none.

Texas continues to carry out executions with a vengeance, and that is what it is, institutionalized vengeance. Texas does not have to do this.

The death penalty is not needed to protect society. Such protection can be achieved through long-term incarceration. And we now have life without parole as an optional punishment for capital murder. Furthermore, the death penalty does not deter violent crime by others. This was shown once again in a 1999 study by a number of Texas professors.

My heart goes out to the victims of crime and their families, but an execution is not the answer to their pain. The healing they seek can be realized only through a loving God, a caring community and time.

We are, sadly, all complicit when it comes to the death penalty in Texas. Politicians who support this punishment are particularly complicit because they use it as a means to promote their political careers. If they really wanted to be “tough on crime,” they would strengthen programs that effectively prevent crime such as child protective services, mental health services and drug rehabilitation programs.

The criminal justice system is complicit because it is biased in favor of executions. This begins with a system that excludes many people from serving on juries because they don’t believe in the death penalty. It continues with incompetent and/or underfunded defense attorneys, judges who often allow grievous errors to go uncorrected, an appeals process that closes the door on legitimate claims, and a clemency process that fails to deliver either mercy or justice.

Texas has sent a number of innocent people to death row and has executed several with strong claims of innocence including Ruben Cantu, Cameron Willingham and Carlos Deluna.

People who carry out the executions are also complicit. Throughout history, people have committed atrocities and justified doing so by saying they were just carrying out orders. That is not a valid excuse if we believe in personal responsibility.

Christians who support the death penalty are complicit. Apparently they have forgotten Jesus’ teachings about mercy and forgiveness.

And the citizens of the state are complicit by continuing to elect politicians who support the death penalty, and by not protesting when executions are carried out in their names.

Much of the world considers the United States to be a huge violator of human rights. Texas, with nearly 380 executions since 1982, is considered the worst offender. We may say that we don’t care what others think, but I wonder how God will judge us. We are all guilty of homicide. We are all complicit.

Atwood, a member of Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, is on the Texas Murder Victims for Reconciliation advisory board.

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Hooman Hedayati

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