summa awilum in mar awilim uhtappid insu uhappadu
-Code of Hammurabi-
If a man has destroyed the sight of another man's son, they shall poke out his eye.
It's no secret that I think the execution of criminals is not a power that should be given a government. Reenacting a murder, repeating the act of violence whether quietly with a needle or loudly with a squad of rifles serves no purpose other than to dignify anger, hatred and blood lust.
The State of Missouri killed serial killer and white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin yesterday, in a little room and in front of witnesses. It took the mechanism of institutional homicide over 30 years to exhaust all appeals and procedures and last minute delays before strapping him to a table and running phenobarbital into his veins.
Franklin has been convicted of 8 racially motivated murders and has confessed to a dozen more. He is thought to have committed over 20 in Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin and Ohio. He has confessed to shooting publisher Larry Flynt, paralyzing him permanently and to wounding civil rights leader Vernon Jordan. Using a 'deer rifle' he killed two young cousins Dante Brown and Darrell Lane in Cincinnati because they were African American and fully 18 years later was given a life sentence for it, but of course that was moot since he had already been given a death sentence for the similar sniper shooting of Gerald Gordon outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977. He fired 5 shots into a group of Jewish worshipers, killing Gordon and wounding two others. God gave him this mission, he said.
So I'm not in mourning for Franklin. Given the chance to stop his 'divine' calling to kill Blacks and Jews, I would not have hesitated to use lethal force, nor chastised anyone else for doing so, but of course his mission was long over when they killed him. Larry Flynt will never walk again nor will those killed be restored to life. The lives diminished by grief will not likely be restored to happiness.
"I hate him for destroying my life, for taking away something precious to me, a life that I brought into this world,"
said Abbie Evans Clark, Dante Brown's mother. I hate him too and it wasn't my son he killed. She will likely always hate him.
"It's devastating. It's a void. You never get over it."
I'm sure she's right. She feels no forgiveness, she says, and although she knows it won't bring the two boys back,
"It lets you know that justice will be done for the senseless murders of two innocent boys."
Justice. One has to ask: what is justice if it's not the undoing of wrong? What is justice if it changes nothing, restores nothing?
If a man dieth -- doth he revive?
What is justice if it's inspired by hate and why then is it called justice if hate itself is not justice? Children are not fungible, not property that can be replaced, like money that can be repaid, like debits and credits on a balance sheet. The death of a murderer does not repay a mother for the loss of her son nor can his life be restored to him. Even El could not restore Job's murdered family to him but only a substitute. Those he once loved are gone forever.
Lex Talionis is what we often call reciprocal punishment. In it's favor, we can say that it determines the limits of punishment -- only one eye for one eye. We talk about repayment, but some crimes cannot be payed back nor is the victim's sight restored when someone else's is taken away. Indeed can we talk about justice at all when we admit we want someone dead or worse that God wants someone dead and we need to fulfill his divine will?
I'm glad Joseph Paul Franklin is dead. I hate him down to the bottom of my soul, but I do not love my hatred. I do not ennoble it. I do not justify it or try to reconcile it with my reverence for life. I feel no better and am no better now that he's dead. I don't think we are safer. I don't think we are any closer to fulfilling that longing for harmony in all things we've likely had since our beginning. I don't think we reach it in our various faiths -- neither in the laws of Missouri or the law codes of Ur-Nammu or Hammurabi or edicts of Telepinu or the Hebrew Halacha.
Some things cannot be made right nor losses recovered and when we act out of hate, when we justify hatred, perhaps only hate itself is served or preserved.