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Murder Victims' Families Say No to More Killing

Tanya Greene,
Advocacy and Policy Counsel,
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September 26, 2011

We heard a lot last week about the MacPhail family who wanted Troy Davis killed despite his innocence. But what about the loved ones of murder victims who oppose the death penalty?

Why haven’t we heard many, if any, media accounts from James Anderson’s family? Mr. Anderson, a black man, was allegedly run over by a truck driven by Deryl Dedmon, a white teenager, in Mississippi this past summer. Barbara Anderson Young, Mr. Anderson’s sister, wrote a letter to the local District Attorney on behalf of their family indicating the family’s opposition to the death penalty, which is “deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well.” The letter also eloquently asks that Dedmon be spared execution because the death penalty “historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites.” It continues, “[e]xecuting James’ killers will not help balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment.” Why isn’t more of a big deal made about families of murder victims’ of horrific crimes — there is disturbing video of Mr. Anderson’s beating and death — who do not believe state-sponsored murder is the right answer?

And then there was Lawrence Brewer, executed by Texas last week — the day after Georgia killed Troy Davis — for the dragging death of James Byrd. Members of Mr. Byrd’s family opposed the death penalty, despite the racist and vicious nature of the killing. Of Brewer’s remorseless — he said he had no regrets the day he was executed — Byrd’s sister, Betty Boatner, said, “If I could say something to him, I would let him know that I forgive him and then if he still has no remorse, I just feel sorry for him.” Byrd’s daughter shared that she didn’t want Brewer to die because “it’s easy . . .(a)ll he’s going to do it go to sleep” rather than live every day with what he did and perhaps one day recognize the humanity of his victim. James Byrd’s son, Ross, points out “You can’t fight murder with murder . . .(l)ife in prison would have been fine. I know he can’t hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn’t what we want.”

Some victims are able to seek healing separate from vengeance through the court system and lethal poison. Many thoughtful criminal justice advocates, like Sister Helen Prejean, affirm that it is a more lasting and complete healing.

Believe it or not, there are actually two national organizations, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation and Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, as well as a number of state-based ones, comprised of murder victims’ families who oppose the death penalty.

Yesterday was the fifth annual National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims with observations around the country (such as Arkansas and New York) that encourage families to remember loved ones without violence.

There are alternatives to meeting violence with more violence. And doesn’t an eye for an eye make the whole world blind?

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