“Responsibilities and Rights”
October 2, 2011 — With extensive media coverage regarding the execution of Troy Davis, and passion on both sides of the decision, the people of the United States are once again confronted with the appropriateness of death as punishment. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (via CBS news) prior to the execution of Troy Davis, 1,267 people had been executed since 1976. 34 states still have the death penalty.
As part of the human empowerment movement, and defenders of the value of all human life, we need to ask ourselves if this is the appropriate use of power by human beings. What do we gain? What do we lose? Do we have systems that are infallible and can guarantee that we never execute an innocent person? Should we, as humans, be in the position of taking away life? Is the right to one’s own life, a human right?
In 2005, I watched the late night televised execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams. He was a co-founder of the gang called the Crips, and had been found guilty of killing four people. Later he co-wrote children’s books encouraging children not to become involved in violence and gangs. For his work from death row, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize. I wondered how many children might have been influenced not to join gangs from reading his books. How many teachers would have to tell school children the next day that this author, perhaps now a hero to them, was executed? What would be the effect upon those children? How would it alter their life-view? What would they think about adults? The ripple effect was huge, and the question of whether a life can be redeemed echoed throughout the world.
The topic of the death penalty is politically, spiritually, and emotionally charged, but to refuse to even contemplate this practice would be irresponsible. We who desire to be spiritually empowered are reminded to put our spiritual practice to work for the betterment of all society, so that we truly become the hands and feet of Universal Love or God. We cannot afford to look the other way. We must take a stand. Let it be for truth and goodness as we each understand it.
I wrote this poem in the minutes following the execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams. Perhaps something in it will resonate with you.
“Let Freedom Ring”
And the light went out on the people
And the darkness covered the earth
And God said, “Were the choices they made,
Made for the greater good?”
And the light went out in Heaven
While the Angels gathered round
To discuss the latest crisis
In the Situation Room on earth.
The Angels were puzzled and restless.
“We did our best,” each one said.
“But the people on earth didn’t listen
And what we saw was all that we dread.
We saw the beauty of sunshine
Marred by pollution till the skies were gray
And the people were not able to see
The ways that were gone awry.
Pollution covered the earth
Until judgment was clouded, and grew
To become the poor judgment of leaders
Because they had no direction.”
The Angels paused in their discussion
Only one happy thought was expressed:
“The people had free choice. It was they
Who wrought such destruction on earth.”
Their judgment was clouded by leaders
Whose values they forgot to examine;
Who sought revenge for justice,
And thought that power could correct.
But killing didn’t accomplish their mission!
People, angered by deception, still cried.
The Freedom dream of each person
Was belied by the misuse of power.
The use of torture and death didn’t cleanse them.
The hate of others they still didn’t understand.
It didn’t clean the air of pollution.
‘Pollution of destruction’ never does.
The People were scared and confused.
The Angels were far too overworked.
How do you stop the pollution of power
That destroys all who dare to oppose?
When does free speech become free?
When are children allowed to be?
When will the monsters of fear and greed
And reckless abandon be refuted?
Who has the right to overtake all that covers
The earth with innocence and peace?
When do we redefine justice
To mean that the terror will cease?
When do we stop and discover
That childhood dreams we, ourselves, destroyed?
When do we learn to remember
That children learn by action, not words?
When do we look for the sunshine,
And realize that we covered the earth
With the shame and destruction of greed?
For other than freedom we chose.
When do we stop killing in the name of God?
Stop the drugging, the killing, the rape?
When does power get used for building up
Instead of tearing down the soul of the People?
How will killing make us feel better?
How does death another death avenge?
Why does destruction in the name of building
Remain our only defense?
The Angels went back to their business
Of leading the human race, their charge.
But their struggle to stay positive
Went beyond the scope of their abilities.
The earth, once teeming with life and joy,
Was now shrouded in darkness and despair.
Where is the joy, the growth, the realization
That freedom was a choice they once shared?
Hate and destruction will never lead
To peace and freedom and love.
The great divide before us
Requires each to decide in her/his heart.
Will we forgive? Rehabilitate? Renew?
Or Destroy? Tear down? Pollute
The lives of our People? The green of our earth?
The sun that we thought could not go out?
When we kill in our hearts, we undeniably destroy
The potential for peace we once taught.
The children are watching, not waiting anymore,
For we’ve rushed them, and now they are loose.
Some use drugs as they maim and kill.
Others use sex and drugs to escape.
For when the dream of peace is lost
Only escape and destruction remain.
Today we taught our children
That lives cannot be rehabilitated;
That the worth of the person is determined
By a jury of other flawed humans.
Today we put ourselves above God.
Today we chose once again to destroy
The teenager’s belief in forgiveness of sin.
Today we killed one who tried to lead them.
The new direction was away from gangs.
The new direction was toward internal peace.
But the judges of human souls knew better.
And they killed the new direction he showed.
Are we better without him?
I don’t think so, for you see,
He’d learned the cost of freedom misused;
And his lesson is needed more than before.
He tried to send a message to stop
The aimless, horrid killing he’d spawned.
But the seekers of revenge didn’t listen
And they sought “justice” instead.
So today the children listen
To adult claims of justification.
And they see beyond the words
To our motives, unclean, but clear.
Some love to tell about his final minutes.
We sought to find fear, but found peace.
What was hoped for, his fear of death,
Was not present to satisfy our desire.
What was present was peace within.
A peace that death could not destroy.
But the children will make their own interpretations
And they won’t be fooled by our defenses.
The light of a life that went out last night
Won’t avenge the deaths of those lost,
Won’t heal the justice system
That is fraught with human frailty.
It won’t teach acceptance of our diversity–
Won’t teach Black and White to trust.
It won’t improve the human condition.
It won’t teach us how to care.
It taught that death and destruction
Are not within human jurisdiction.
The faces of witnesses to the execution
Were themselves witnesses to the horror.
Life is not of our giving.
It is not of our taking away.
It is mystery of the Universe unfolding.
It is beyond our capacity to understand.
We can punish, hold responsible,
Take satisfaction as we avenge, if we must.
But the final step, to extinguish life,
Is beyond human jurisdiction!
We must open our eyes and view
The destruction we have wrought
On the Planet, it’s People, it’s Children.
And take personal responsibility for change.
Stop claiming the right to hold others
To a standard we refuse to uphold.
See the eyes of the children in confusion
As they witness our actions, not love.
Stop asking why they kill, when we kill.
Stop asking why sex and drugs are their escape.
Look at our behaviors and see who leads them.
Let the image speak for itself.
Stop the killing, the torture, the deceit.
Select leaders based upon their values.
Select Churches that truly lead.
Follow what you know, not what you hear.
Follow your own internal guidance
For death it will surely not seek.
Find other ways to stop terror
That are not, themselves, more terror.
Stop killing by stopping, not killing.
Stop drugs by being grateful, not resentful.
Stop lying to children, for they see
The inconsistency of word and action.
Let the lesson of destruction be
That we have the freedom to choose!
If we choose hate and killing
We will each die by that sword.
If we choose love and caring,
If our actions follow our words,
We will choose rehabilitation and forgiveness,
We will choose the way of light.
Darkness once before covered the planet.
Our religions may tell that, but we
Need to notice that darkness is again falling.
We have only a brief time for reprieve.
Unity and Peace, love of each other,
Caring beyond boundaries of culture and color.
We must show that we believe in Love
By allowing Love to change lives!
The children are watching and learning.
Sue Kidd Shipe, Ph.D.
12/13/05 Following the execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams
This Meditation is dedicated to justice, but not revenge.
Sue Kidd Shipe, Ph.D.
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