February 15, 2005


Its infinitely harder to be against the death penalty after three bombs have just gone off in a span of minutes in cities that are far apart from each other. People look at you and ask, "how can you be against the death penalty after what happened?" or "how would you feel if it happened to your loved ones?" or just the simple "don't you care?"

The questions hurt and sometimes I wish I could say, "been there, done that" in answer to the same questions over and over again; meaning, I've been asked those questions before, since 1995 and I've always been able to give an answer. Sometimes, I wish I could give neatly packaged answers that are gems of intellectual insight and reasoned argumentation so that the questions will no longer hurt.

But, I've realized that there is a reason why the questions hurt. Its because a part of me is being challenged each time--my principles, my moral compass, my soul, my heart, my faith in my fellowmen and my God. And the only way to make the questions not hurt is to precisely realize the reason why they hurt in the first place.

I've also realized that testing your principles in a vacuum is an easy but ultimately fruitless exercise but testing your principles in the forge of everyday realities is a painful but extremely fruitful process. It's easy to say I'm against the death penalty when no one has been killed heinously or raped brutally; it's easy to say I'm against the death penalty when no one from your family has undergone horrifying and horrible experiences with crime. But try to stake your principles when everyone else is saying the opposite; when the people you love and who matter to you cannot look you in the eye because they disagree with you; try saying to someone you love, "I'm sorry you're in pain but I don't think killing the one who hurt you will remove your pain."

My principled opposition to the death penalty has been tested many times and each time I've realized that I've always had to think about whether I am correct in opposing the death penalty. I've always had to look at faces of real people in order to weigh each time the burden of my principles. And each time, I've realized that my stand remains the same even though the reasons have become different.

I always say that the death penalty ceased to become an academic topic for me in 1999 when two of my clients were killed before my eyes. Since then, it has defined me and my life in many ways. My practice has taken on a vastly different complexion--often I am called by my most famous client's last name, "Echegaray" and often I get strange requests to help out in the most hopeless of cases. Its quite flattering, to be candid, but its also very scary.

From 1994 till February 1999, my stand against the death penalty was a legal one; I knew all the legal arguments for and against it and prided myself in being able to come up with the best arguments against capital punishment. In 1999, two of my clients were killed before my very eyes. My stand became a personal one; it's impossible to forget their faces and I have not forgotten. More and more, my arguments took on their faces--from strictly legal ones, they became more personal, more intimate, more human. In 2001, I gave my life to the Lord and have, at every turn, weighed my stand against the death penalty with what my God would want me to do and each time, I have come away convinced that there is no place for capital punishment in a Gospel that preaches love above all else.

Each time I am asked the questions that shake me to the core of my beliefs against the death penalty, each time I see horrific images of death of innocents from senseless acts of hate, my all-too human heart bleeds and cries out. It would be very easy for me to give in and say, "yes, they deserve to die for all that they have done." But each time, the Lord shows me His face, His hands, His pierced side, His bleeding heart that nonetheless loves despite all the hate He endured. And each time, my God reminds me that He forgave those who persecuted Him, those who hated Him, those who betrayed Him. It is difficult to gaze at that face and remain unmoved that love does not triumph over hate and evil. It is difficult to gaze at His face and not say, "I put my trust and my hope in You that this world will soon know the peace you were born to bring."

In a season of violence, I choose not to spread more violence. In a season of bloodletting, I choose not to spill more blood. In a season of death, I choose life. In this month of love, I choose to love even more.

No comments: