Death Penalty for the Boston Bomber?

For two years the Boston metro area has been processing the trauma of the Boston Marathon bombing. Four innocent lives were taken: Martin Richard age 8, Lingzi Lu age 23, Krystle Campbell age 29 died in the bombing. MIT police officer Sean Collier age 27 was murdered in cold blood. All had long lives ahead of them leaving behind family and friends. Over 200 others were injured, many losing arms, legs, sight, hearing. In truth the entire psyche of the region has been traumatized.

The perpetrators were two brothers Tamerlan age 26 who was killed during a manhunt by police and Dzhokhar Tsarmaev now age 21. This week a jury convicted Dzhokhar of 30 counts including conspiracy and deadly use of a weapon of mass destruction. Seventeen of the counts are punishable by death.

Now the decision of whether to put Tsarmaev to death is in the hands of the jury. The jury is asked to weigh what is a just and proportionate response to the monstrous act of murdering and maiming so many. Whatever decision they come to, the jury of our fellow citizens deserves our respect and gratitude.

Of course the debate as to what is a just and proportionate response is being debated throughout the region. Which is the most fitting punishment death or life imprisonment? What do you think?

Some argue that the death penalty is the most fitting price for such a monstrous act and a deterrent to others. Some believe that the death penalty is morally wrong and never acceptable. Others suggest that the Tsarnaev brothers were seeking martyrdom (in a perverted understanding of Islam) and that a death sentence would give the younger brother what he wants.

It is an open question whether the death penalty or life imprisonment will bring any degree of justice and closure to those maimed or who lost their loved one. Each person will seek their own path towards a measure of healing and acceptance and deserve our support and prayers.

While I understand the reasoning of those who call for the death penalty I can’t agree. On a deeply emotional and spiritual level I think the death penalty further inflicts an emotional and spiritual toll upon the psyche of a community. In short there is no such thing as a righteous killing.

Surely Dzhokhar Tsarnaev must and will be held accountable for the evil he and his brother committed. I don’t buy the defense strategy that the younger brother was a follower and not the leader. Each of us are accountable for our actions.

I believe that a life in prison is an appropriate punishment. With the loss of freedom this young man will be held accountable for this rest of his life. Will this bring a measure of healing and closure to those victimized? I hope so but I don’t know.

One lesson we have learned over these past two years is that there is a deep reservoir of compassion in the greater Boston area. Drawing upon this compassion has brought out the very best in us and provided an inspiring witness to our nation and the world. My hope and prayer is that we continue to draw from this deep reservoir in the months and years to come.

When No Graveyard Wants Him

The body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed in a shootout with police has remained at a Worcester, Mass funeral parlor since April 19.  Tamerlan along with his younger brother are charged with the two bombings at the Boston Marathon, resulting in three deaths and the maiming and wounding of 200. 

Since that horrific day, no cemetery has been willing to accept his body for burial.  In keeping with Islamic law Tamerlan Tsarnaev is required to receive a proper burial.  What do you do when no one wants a body?

This raises political, cultural and theological questions.  Is it possible to respect the cultural requirement for a proper religious burial while being repelled by the act of the deceased?  Is it possible to believe that the compassion of God and God’s people can be offered to someone who has taken part in such a heinous crime?

Entering into such turbulent water wades a wise and  courageous writer, Noelle Rene’.  Noelle in her  20’s and a Christian, offers wise words as we explore the parameters of the human heart and imagination.  I invite you to read her article and then see a postscript that I’ve added:

 No Graveyard Wants Him ~ by Noelle Rene’

No graveyard wants him
reads the headline as I click the keys to cnn.com
I can’t get myself beyond those four words
They don’t read
no father wants him
no mother wants him
no friend wants him
no lover wants him
no school wants him
no job wants him
no church wants him…
They read

No graveyard wants him

To be unwanted in life
is one of humanity’s greatest tragedies
To be unwanted in death…
I shake to hold the thought 

We are talking about a human body
dead
buried deep
surrendered
and returned
to dust

No graveyard wants him

We are talking about ourselves
dying
yet to be buried
but well on our way

No graveyard wants him

There is not much I know
these days
about god
I wrestle, daily, with our tragedies
and how they reflect such a deity
But while I may not know
where I stand with god
in life,
I will be damned
if I don’t know that
I stand with god
in death

because isn’t that it?
isn’t that what this gospel they read
they speak
they live
they breathe
is all about?

that we are wanted.

in life? yes.
but in death?
especially.
and that these deaths that we fear
so
much
ultimately bring us life.

so bury me next to the terrorists,
the rapists,
the murderers,
the abusers,
the addicted,
the inmates,
the violent
and the shamed.
bury me next to the blacks,
the whites,
the rich,
the poor,
the justice seekers
and the evil doers.
bury me next to the Christians,
the Muslims,
the Buddhists,
the Jews,
and the Gentiles.

bury me next to the wanted.

Tamerlan, I do not believe much,
but I believe that you are wanted.
you are wanted by a god
whose love I shake to hold.
You are wanted by
a father god
a mother god
a friend god
a lover god
a god of life

a god over death.

And something deep in these bones
dares my soul to believe
that this god just might have you.

Postscript:  In early May, Martha Mullen of Virgina was at a coffee shop and heard a radio news report about the difficulty finding a burial spot for Tsarnaev.  Mullen a Christian, contacted an Islamic funeral service and arranged for a funeral plot at the Al-Barzakh cemetery, a small Islamic cemetery in rural Virginia. 

Ms Mullen’s action has led to criticism and threats against her.  Her response?  “My first thought was Jesus said, love your enemies.  Nobody is without sin.  Certainly this was a horrific act, but he’s dead and what happened is between him and God.  People were making an issue and detracting from the healing that needed to take place.”

… How big is our concept of God?  How big is God’s willingness, capacity to receive the most horrific parts of us?  If we believe these two women, Noelle and Martha, God’s embrace is bigger than many are willing or able to imagine.   I am grateful for their wisdom and courage.  

For Boston

Yesterday I pulled to the side of the road, listening to initial reports of a bombing along the route of the Boston Marathon.  Later I watched horrific images on the television.  I thought ‘these are my people’.

I grew up in Rhode Island less than an hour from Boston.   I went to graduate school in Newton on the Green Line, a few miles from Boston.  From the school I’d run with several classmates along Commonwealth Avenue.  Several times a week we’d run the iconic ‘heart break hills’ of Boston, those hills that come 2/3rds of the way into the Marathon. Of course, we were running just 5 miles or so and our legs were fresh.  Many times we’d see Bill Rogers (Boston Billy) four time winner of the marathon, running the same route on his daily training route.  We’d marvel at his effortless stride.  We knew that we were on holy ground, running on the most famous stretch of road in America.

Several years on marathon day I was part of the crowd urging the runners along.  One year I was at the finish line looking down the stretch of road for a buddy who was running his first Boston.  The crowds each time were joyous.  It was Patriots Day, a holiday that honored the regions love of liberty and reminded us that Springtime had finally come.

When the bombs went off several hours into the race, the best runners had long since returned to their hotel rooms.  Of the 20,000 plus runners that day those who remained on the road were those who were running for very personal reasons.  Some ran in memory of a loved one who had died of cancer, others simply for their health and the sake of challenge.  For them finishing was what mattered.

These were the ones that the crowd waited for. Those who had conquered heart-break hill and deserved the applause of family and friends.  It is a time-honored tradition to remain at the finish line until the last runner crosses.

Then everything changed, the two bombs went off.  Three were killed, including an eight year old child.  Over 140 were raced to hospitals with limbs torn off and shrapnel wounds. 

Less than a week ago I was in Boston, in part to visit my family and soak up the hometown atmosphere.  The Sox were opening at Fenway and every tavern and deli TV was tuned to the game.  The Red Sox and the Marathon have a way of unifying a community.  And now that community is in shock, grieving for those who have lost loved ones and for those traumatized physically and emotionally.

One person who was interviewed at the scene said :”Whoever did this chose the wrong town.  In Boston we are tough, we take care of each other.  I’m not going to let whoever did this take away what is important to me which is my commitment to this community.”

These are my people.  God bless Boston and all who mourn.