Innocence and Anger

The only thing we have to be angry about is anger itself. We encourage each other to be angry and to seek to satisfy our anger with revenge. This does not work, but it makes us angrier. It pisses me off.

I suppose I should be pleased that the seasonal discussion of capital punishment has taken one more upswing in popularity and that DNA proof of innocence is a prominent feature of the chatter. I’m not.

Capital punishment is a sexy topic relevant to a tiny fraction of prisoners, guilty or innocent. It is a glaring example and lesson in vengeance, and it is uniquely irreparable. But we need to do more than remark that most prisoners have no biological evidence to test, before we move on to the next exciting story of DNA testing for death-row inmates. We need to notice also that most prisoners are not on death row and never have been. Some of them are routinely raped and beaten. Many of them are almost certainly innocent.

The reason we don’t care is that we are angry and we treat our anger as a virtue. Even our medieval justice system, in distinguishing criminal from civil proceedings, recognizes that an entity called “the state” or (in a democracy) the community as a whole has an interest in punishing crime. But in our frenzy to bestow unconscionable powers on government in the name of doing away with government, we have come to view trials as contests between alleged victims’ need for “closure” and the accuseds’ need for a chance to prove they are innocent .

Why in the world would anyone want to close anything? “Balancing things out” is utter mumbo jumbo. Things need to be repaired, made the best of, improved upon and improved upon some more. This may involve reparation, restitution, reconciliation, rehabilitation, restraint and the infliction of suffering. The last thing it should or can involve is closing anything.

The group organized under the name Families of Murder Victims against the Death Penalty knows something Martin Luther King Jr. tried to teach, something he drew out of his religion – the central myth of which is the state execution of an innocent. King said, “discontent is sound and healthy. Nonviolence saves it from degenerating into morbid bitterness and hatred. Hate is always tragic. It is as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated. It distorts the personality and scars the soul.”

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