Friday, May 15, 2015

Trauma...and the Death Penalty

Friday, May 15, 2015

One of the big news stories today was the decision of a jury to choose the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  Tsarnaev was a very, very young man when his actions at the 2013 Boston Marathon led to the deaths of three people and the wounding of hundreds.  I read about the jury decision in this article in the Star Tribune.  One of the survivors of the attack noted "we can breathe again".  While this sentiment is a nice one I would beg to differ with anyone who believes that applying the death penalty as 'justice' will offer much of value.

Here are a few facts to consider: Killing Tsarnaev 1) will not bring back those who died, 2) will not automatically erase all the painful memories of those who were victimized, 3) will not necessarily deter others from committing equally horrific and harmful acts and 4) does not necessarily address the deeper issues that contribute to people becoming so distraught, alienated and marginalized that committing harm against others seems the only wise path to take.  The only thing that can apparently be essentially guaranteed is that Tsarnaev himself will never hurt another person.

But what about the many, many disaffected youth out there who awake each day to lives that seem utterly devoid of hope? Indeed, what are we and other nations to do about young people who become radicalized by their circumstances and seek to use violence and upheaval as a way to express their grievances.  The Star Tribune article did make some mention of the deeper issue of Muslim perceptions that the United States is targeting the Muslim faith (as expressed in its wars in foreign states such as Iraq and Afghanistan).  And I believe we have a powder keg of our own here in the United States.  The amazing concentration of wealth in the hands of a very small number of people while a vast majority of Americans simultaneously struggle to maintain their standard of living is a recipe for frustration, alienation and the decay of neighborhoods, larger communities and whole regions of states.

So tell me again how putting Tsarnaev to death can be seen as a victory?

Yes, the victims can perhaps breathe more easily in the short term.  But crime in the city of Boston has surely not been eradicated by this one jury verdict.  There will still be other issues to deal with.  Petty theft, fraud, assault and even murder will not vanish from this one American city let alone the entire fabric of America.  To create a better world for future generations I think we are going to have to develop more skill in probing more deeply and considering the deeper, harsher and more complex realities that confront so many people on a daily basis.

As I have recounted elsewhere in my blog I have experienced my own share of injustice.  And I often felt it was more than my fair share of hardship.  But then again I am still alive.  None of the indifference, corruption, violence and stupidity that caused me such psychic distress ultimately killed me.  So in some sense I suppose I could consider myself a lucky person.

Through the psychotherapeutic journey I have taken these last two years I have come to clearly understand that it was the nearly successful attempt on my father's life in June, 1982 (and subsequent events that only compounded that trauma) that I experienced as the most traumatizing element of my early life history.  There was a time when I virtually seethed with outrage that I experienced such violence, cruelty and stupidity as what I did...and at such a young age.  And yet for all my anger and disgust I was thoughtful and reflective enough to be able to understand that exacting some sort of personal justice on my stepmother and the others who failed me would not automatically erase my pain.   And it certainly would not guarantee that I would not be hurt by careless, insensitive humans later in my life.

Given what I have experienced in my own life you might think I would be a prime candidate for believing in the value of the death penalty.  And yet in principle I do not support the application of the death penalty as a means of deterring crime.  The only instance in which I can see potential merit in using the death penalty is that it can prove effective in keeping people who have already hurt others from harming or killing still more people.  If there was credible evidence that the death penalty deterred crime I might be willing to seriously reconsider my opposition to it.  But to my knowledge no such evidence exists.

To heal from trauma it can prove helpful to reassess your values.  In doing so we can create something of a map for ourselves that can facilitate our conscious creation of a more rewarding life.  I chose to cut a number of people out of my life in the last two years.  I did so because I consistently experienced these individuals as living lives which were not really aligned with the values they professed to espouse.

I am going to conclude tonight by making an observation about American culture.  Despite appearances to the contrary (like the number of people who are vociferously pro-life and make this belief a guiding force of their voting behavior) America is very much a culture of violence and death.  I think American culture is a culture of people slow to understand, quick to anger and quick to react.  I think this is a fear based culture committed to seeking quick fixes for entrenched issues.

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