Monday, April 22, 2013

A New Command I Give You

A week ago today, a tragedy occurred at the hands of two individuals.  At least 3 lives were ended by their choices, and hundreds were injured.  For 2 days, US intelligence investigated the crime while the country honored the dead and injured.  For 2 days, law enforcement hunted the suspects while the country did their best to help.  And for the 3 days since the capture of the final suspect, the country has become inundated with a resurgence of verbal violence.

I can understand the reaction.  We, as a country, were attacked and hurt.  Families have been forever changed as a result of the attack.  People want retribution.  They want the criminals to get what they deserve.  They want justice.

Normally, justice would be served in a courtroom.  Opposing groups of lawyers would present evidence and lack thereof.  A judge would preside to ensure the laws were upheld, that neither side was treated unfairly.  A jury of 12 average Americans would hear the evidence, and they would finally be asked to decide the accused person's fate.  They would assign the proper punishment based on the evidence, whether that be fines, community service, jail time, or death.

What surprised me first after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured was the energy of the crowds in Boston.  While the suspect in the procession of emergency vehicles back to the police station, the city emerged after days of lockdown to give each one a hero's welcome.  But the energy of the crowd was something more than excitement.  It seemed vindictive.

The city wasn't just proud of law enforcement for "catching the bad guy," they were ready to assign punishment.  Parts of the crowd looked like they came out to catch a glimpse of the bad guy so they could do their worst to him.

The next morning, I read that Dzhokhar hadn't been Mirandized.  This was done initially, but the formal decision would take time.  The news media said the decision may hold.  The suspect may not be allowed an attorney, and he may not be allowed due process at all.  I read that the 19 year old boy who moved to the US at the age of 8 might be tried as a foreign terrorist.

From this point forward, what surprised me most were the jeers.  Social media was full of angry, violent, and vengeful statements about what Dzhokhar deserved.  He should be tossed in a pit and left to die.  He should rot in prison.  He deserves the death penalty.

Finally, I realized why this all sounded so wrong.  I knew Dzhokhar had a major part in causing the tragedy in Boston.  I knew he would be punished in a method and severity to be determined by a court.  Somehow, I knew that was enough.  Somehow, I knew the jeers of society weren't necessary.

I thought back to last April, when I sat on the jury for a murder trial.

The crime took place between old friends, practically brothers.  The victim had started to poke fun at the defendant after the defendant's girlfriend had done the same.  The defendant had a medical condition, and the joking came at the expense of his condition.  He tried to get his friends to stop, but they wouldn't.  He walked away, but the jokes continued.  He told his friend to leave, but again poking fun at his condition, the victim asked "What are you gonna do?  Make me?"  The defendant picked up a kitchen knife in threat, and his friend was killed when he lunged to take the knife from the defendant.

For 4 days, I sat with 11 other jurors unable to talk about the case.  We heard statements about the incident, statements from both mothers, and the police involved.  We had to look at autopsy pictures and hear a statement from the pathologist who detailed his wounds.  We knew full well the impact of this man's actions.

But when it came to the fifth day, we agreed on something else: this man had lived for 6 years knowing that his oldest friend was killed by a knife that he held in his hand.

We couldn't call it murder, because we don't think he ever intended to cause harm, but maybe he did.  So, wWe assigned a verdict of manslaughter, and shortly after gave the man the minimum 5 year prison sentence.

We hesitated to make this decision, because we didn't want the victim's mother to feel justice wasn't served.  We hesitated, because society would clearly say that he deserved worse for ending a human life.  What got us past our hesitation was the thought of mercy.

Suddenly, in the midst of our discussion, we knew that we held a huge gift in our hands.  While we had the power to assign life in prison, we also held the power to show mercy.  We could look this man in the eye, all understanding what had come to pass, and we could give him a second chance.  We could give him less than he deserved.

Today, I see Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sitting in the defendant's seat.  I see a boy of 19 who did something awful.  I see someone who couldn't have been in his right mind, whether brainwashed or mentally ill.  I see someone with so many years ahead of him that he could learn to love.  I see someone who needs a second chance.

We could join in with the rest of the country to shout "crucify!" to the  courts.  We could join in with jeers of our own, urging for the most severe punishment the law allows and more.  We could strive toward an eye-for-an-eye punishment.

Or we could choose to love our enemies.

"A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples." (John 13:34-35, NIV)
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well." (Matthew 5:38-40, NIV)
 "You’re familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst." (Matthew 5:43, MSG)

 Always moving forward,


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