Sentencing Robert Bowers to death isn’t likely to honor the victims. What’s worse, it might build up the case for capital punishment for terrorists in Israel.
Prosecutors are reportedly planning to seek the death penalty for Robert Bowers, suspected of murdering 11 Jews in a mass shooting attack as they celebrated a bris at their synagogue in Pittsburgh. They shouldn’t.
There is a human instinct that cries out to match the most awful crime with the ultimate punishment. As I watched the miserable news pour in, every face looked like someone in the synagogue where I grew up, in Brooklyn. Every time I saw Rabbi Myers speak of his congregants, tears flowed uncontrollably.
At moments, the pain this week ran so deep that even imagining death of the murderer feels unsatisfying — as if his one evil life somehow equals 11 innocent ones. Maybe there’s something worse: torture, suffering, hellfire.
But none of these ideas actually make me feel better; they disgust me. If emotions are a spectrum, the revenge side feels like a brick wall. Maybe that’s what prompted a woman from Charleston to say, “I forgive you,” to Dylann Roof, who slaughtered her mother at prayer. It was astonishing to see a woman at her darkest hour triumph over the worst and most natural of human instincts — I doubt I would be able to do it. In his book Between the World and Me, Ta Nehisi Coates admitted with candor that he felt “a great distance from the grieving rituals of my people,” when those whose loved ones had been cut down for being black, offer forgiveness in return.
But even Coates opposed the death penalty for Roof, who was convicted of 33 charges and sentenced to death in a federal court. Coates didn’t forgive Roof, but he thought about the kind of society he wanted America to be. For that, he looked to Dr. King:
Although hackneyed by the tragic necessity of overuse, there is something to the entreaty “don’t let the terrorists win.” Robert Bowers represents an America that confronts difference by destroying it. He longs for an America where political opinions are expressed by violence, in which difference of opinion is punishable by death. in response, America should not enforce law and morality by killing a man.
Would killing him honor the victims? It’s unlikely. The large majority of American...Read More