By Gil Gonzalez
Forgiveness. Vengeance. Pain. Suffering. Closure. Healing. Finality.
As I contemplate this week’s topic for Random Writers – What is one thing you felt strongly about but changed your mind? – these are the words that are rattling around in my brain.
I grew up a Reagan Republic in a very conservative, Hispanic, Catholic household in Miami. That meant there wasn’t a lot of room for shades of grey regarding most topics of discussion. Specific to the death penalty and capital punishment, the answer was clear cut; You willingly and deliberately kill someone and you deserve to die. There were no “if’s.” There were no “but’s.” There was simply an emphatic “Que lo maten” imperative from my parents coupled with equally emphatic hand gestures. (If there’s one thing about angry or emotional Hispanic conversation, it always comes with hand movements).
I never disagreed with that position. The message from the New Testament notwithstanding, I took the side of the Old Testament when it came to capital punishment. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. A life for a life. I was an unwavering supporter of the death penalty, understanding of the argument which states it’s better to set 100 guilty men free than to put one innocent man to death, but not overly concerned about that scenario.
Flash forward to 2008 when I was summoned to perform jury duty. It was a re-sentencing trial for a convicted murderer. The conviction was not in dispute. Rather, our job was to hear the evidence and make a recommendation of life in prison or the death penalty. It was an experience I will never forget, and one that made me reconsider my position on the death penalty. It’s so easy to think, “Fry the bastard” when you’re removed from the incident in question. However, when immersed in the details of case in which another person’s life rests literally on your judgment, a world of perspective is usually found in that moment.
Flash forward to today. The trial of the man accused of manslaughter in the death of my wife’s cousin begins. Five years to the day of her tragic passing, my in-laws are hoping for resolution, closure, and justice for their beloved Dee. It’s been a roller-coaster of delays and continuances, and we’re all praying the jury deliver a verdict of guilty.
Yet those prayers are to God, and Jesus taught us to forgive those who wrong us and pray for our enemies.
This is where my conflict lies.
Although the death penalty is not part of the discussion in the trial of the man accused of negligence in Dee’s death, it does, for me, raise the question of how can a parent not want anything but death for the person who is responsible for the death of his or her child?
My mind immediately goes to the scene from the movie “A Time to Kill” where Samuel L. Jackson’s character ambushes the men who savagely raped his daughter and kills them. I get that anger. I understand that rage. I almost applaud it, because for me, parenting is a zero sum game. You invest your heart, your soul, your every ounce of being into your kids. And to have all of that taken away by someone else? How can you not go down the path of vengeance and want to kill that person?
I know I’m not answering this week’s topic question. I also know I’m avoiding it because I don’t particular like the answer as it applies to me.
Do I see the world of grey that exists in the discussion of the death penalty? Yes, I do. Am I a 100% proponent or opponent of capital punishment? No, I’m not. I better understand now that each circumstance is unique and must be reviewed in accordance to the specifics of that case (e.g. I’m all for putting to death a serial killer like Ted Bundy, but I felt a world of reservation regarding the recent execution of Troy Davis).
The only thing I am sure of, however, is that if – God forbid – someone ever took the life of one of my kids, I would consume myself in finding a way to kill that person with my own two hands.