Ahead of the expiration of its reserve of midazolam, one of the drugs used to carry out the death penalty in Arkansas, the state has planned seven executions in 10 days beginning next week. Don William Davis, Bruce Earl Ward, Stacey Eugene Johnson, Ledell Lee, Jack Harold Jones, Kenneth D. Williams and Marcel W. Williams are the men who are scheduled to be killed in this short period of time.
Society in Arkansas will not be made safer by this course of action. As we mark the beginning of the Easter season on Monday, we will find ourselves culpable of ignoring Jesus’ example. He came so that we would love one another, protect each other from harm and work for the goodness of all. These are the acts of restorative justice.
In turning toward mercy and away from violence, we are not asking for our society to be soft on crime, but we are asking our judicial system to cease exacting only retribution. The death penalty is not restorative, nor does it recognize the dignity of all life.
Why do we use violence to solve violence?
Humans have turned on each other since the beginning of time, committing horrific crimes. Our natural response has been to kill those who kill. Why? Fear. Fear that we cannot be kept safe from those who have done great harm. But we have a substantial prison system in this country, and murder rates do not vary between states with the death penalty and those without. Execution is not a deterrent to violent crime.
If execution does not reduce crime, does it relieve the suffering of victims’ family members? On the contrary, family members will commonly say that they are re-victimized by the death penalty. While they are promised peace, what they get are years to repeatedly relive the horrific events at each stage of the appeals process. When the execution finally takes place, another family—that of the executed perpetrator—must endure grief. And this new death certainly does not bring back the beloved victim.
We respond to violence with violence in order to exact revenge. A revenge that stands directly opposed to the image of Jesus we will honor this Easter.In the Passion readings of this Holy Week, we are reminded of the 2,000-year-old drama of the legal, public and strategic execution of an innocent man. Jesus, who was subjected to a painful state-sanctioned execution, responded counterculturally and forgave those who crucified him. He went so far as to welcome the sinner who hung beside him into his kingdom in heaven. As a society we should expect justice and protect ourselves, but also follow Jesus’ example and seek to restore victims and perpetrators. Not exact revenge for its own sake. Through restoring all who have been affected by a grave harm, we can work toward becoming the peaceable kingdom of God, the Easter message of the Resurrection.