Good morning. Are you ready to kill someone?
We do it Monday. All of us. We kill a man. You, me, everyone on your block.
There will be no actual blood on our hands. None that we see, anyhow. But it will be there. A drop of blood. Human blood. Blood belonging to the worst mass murderer in history, Timothy McVeigh, a wicked, remorseless killer — but blood nonetheless.
This is not a private slaying. This is not a family vendetta. This is a federal execution, condoned by our government, which we elect or, by choosing not to vote, allow others to elect. Either way, we are responsible for a society — alone among advanced Western nations — that allows a man to be killed for his crimes.
Maybe you agree with it. Maybe you don’t. But let’s be clear. It isn’t someone else shooting lethal poison into Timothy McVeigh’s veins.
So it’s us.
“For the victims,” U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said last week, “I am grateful this process will soon be over.”
This process. Interesting words. Makes it seem like a matter of course, following orders. This process. It sanitizes. Makes us feel more comfortable with the gruesome act of taking a life.
Which only makes us more like McVeigh.
Oklahoma City’s legacy
Now, this is such a terrible case, there was so much sorrow inflicted, that in its wake it seems impossible to mount an argument against the death penalty. When the trial for McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing took place in 1997, the judge warned the jury not to think with its emotions. Then the mother of a 4-year-old girl told of burying her daughter’s ravaged little body and how, 7 months later, she got a call from the medical examiner’s office telling her it had recovered a piece of her daughter’s hand. Did she want it? And the mother, through tears, said: “Of course I want it. It was part of her.”
She broke down, sobbing. So did nearly everyone in the courtroom — except, of course, McVeigh.
So he is despicable, callous, inhumane. But there is still one thing that totally separates him from us. Not bad thoughts. Not resentment toward authority.
What separates him from us is that we consider human life too precious to touch. All human life.
And he doesn’t.
Once we kill him, we can no longer say that; we can only justify it. And justifying killing — something he tried to do in a recent book — also makes us more like him.
A sight to never see
Not long ago, I spoke to a man who witnessed the last legal execution in a public setting. It was a hanging in Missouri in May of 1937. Jack Jennings was only a teenager then, but he pushed through the crowd and saw the man dangling from the rope.
“I still have nightmares,” he said. “It was not satisfying in any way. Everyone I spoke to said they wished they’d never seen it.”
Many of us may feel that way Monday. We won’t see the actual death (although the victim’s families can if they want to). But we will be pounded with 24-hour coverage, down to the grisliest detail.
The danger is not that we get sick of it. The danger is that we get used to it. And in some small way, the idea of executing someone else won’t seem so unsettling.
That worries me. Should he rot instead in jail? I believe he should. He sees himself as a soldier so he accepts dying as part of the cause. He will be celebrated in death by the sickos who follow him far more than if he withered behind bars.
Killing is killing. For me, it is not something humans should do to one another. I respect those who burn for revenge, especially the victim’s families, but sometimes the highest test of humanity is what we hold ourselves back from doing when every fiber in our body wants to do something else.
No holding back Monday. We kill someone, all of us. I don’t know how we’ll feel in 24 hours. I don’t think it will be good.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.