Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ending Capital Punishment

Roger Coleman was executed in Virginia over a decade ago for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law. But some believe that he was innocent, and a DNA test may tell us today whether he was.

I abhor the death penalty and would love to see it abolished. But what is likely to get it abolished anytime soon if not a backlash over proof that innocent people have been executed? Therefore, part of me would love to see proof that Roger Coleman was innocent. But another part of me would hate to know that any innocent person, including Mr. Coleman, had been executed. Yet, I also don’t wish to say that I hope Mr. Coleman was guilty of such a terrible crime.

Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter what I wish or say. Mr. Coleman either committed the crime or he didn’t, and the test will yield whatever result it yields. But is there anything I or any of us can reasonably do to help bring the death penalty to a timely end in this country?

I believe that, aside from formally opposing the death penalty, one way we can do this is to work at being the best people we can be. If more and more of us lived more mindful lives and radiated lovingkindness, equanimity, empathy, compassion, joy, and wisdom to our families and friends and everyone around us, and they in turn did the same, we would give rise to a society and culture in which fewer and fewer people commit the kinds of crimes that lead to capital punishment.

If we really want to end capital punishment and countless other evils in this country and world, we must begin by changing ourselves inwardly and outwardly.

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