Violence, Part II. Sort of.
I was listening to NPR yesterday in the car and heard an interesting interview of a man who is a defense lawyer for death row inmates in Texas. He talked about the stress of the job, how ordinary murderers look, etc. He mentioned that most death row inmates don’t claim innocence- contrary to popular belief. He said that’s why when he does have a client who claims he is innocent, he pays attention. They went on to discuss why he defends the murderers who confess to the crime. He said that he’s not defending the verdict, but the sentence. He said that so many of the people that he defends are at no risk of committing the same crime again, one of whom he said he’d have let babysit his son for him, he trusted him so much. So intense. Anyway, what really got to me was this story he told of one of his clients. The client was 19 at the time, and had broken into an empty house with a friend. They planned to burglarize the place, but the owner of the house came home. The owner just happened to be a gun collector and an excellent marksman, and chased them through the house with a gun. The boys ran to the back door to escape, but were unable to unlock it. They then hid in a bedroom while the house owner shot through the door at them. The boy shot back through the door and killed the man. He was convicted and sentenced to death row.
I heard that story, and it really got me thinking. I’ve always been against the death penalty. It’s a wonder to me that it still exists. But that’s nothing new for me. I’m always appalled by stories like this. What got to me was wondering about what would have happened if the house owner had succeeded in shooting those boys, even just one of them. If he killed one of them he would have been investigated and perhaps spent some time in jail, but I’m betting no death row. And why? Because he owned the house. Because it was his stuff. Because he was… scared? In my opinion, the boy was guilty of attempted burglary, and self-defense. Why was he put to death? That would almost certainly never have happened again.
It just got me thinking again about acceptable forms of violence in this culture. The fact is, the boy got a bad punishment and was viewed as a murderer because he upset the hierarchy in this culture. To risk sounding like a broken record- I’d like to quote Derrick Jensen. These are two of his twenty premises in the book, Endgame.
"Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims."
"Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control—in everyday language, to make money—by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice."
I mean… can you see why I keep thinking about this stuff? It’s EVERYWHERE. How is what that home owner did acceptable? Of course his death is tragic- he wanted to come home and be safe and rest, like anyone. But how do so many in this culture rationalize and justify what he did, and even worse- why do they blame a young kid for defending his life after he was trapped in a room and being shot at? The answer inevitably will be that he had intruded on someone else’s private property (which, if you’ll remember, is a shared illusion), and was committing a crime… I just think it’s really tragic how blind to this stuff we are sometimes. I think that this was an exceptional story, but this kind of violence happens all the time.
Speaking of the book, we had our second book club. I hosted, and it went really well, I think. It was more organized than last time (because more people had read or were familiar with the premises), and people seemed genuinely interested. I think most people will come again, and that’s cool. I think this kind of subject matter is exhausting, but it’s really incredible to watch it invigorate people after a few minutes. One friend of mine reluctantly came, feeling really overloaded by life in general, but she totally lit up and participated when it was all happening, and has taken to organizing an email group for everyone and is getting her boyfriend interested. It’s just cool. I think I will probably feel tired by this stuff and reluctant about it a lot, but I’ll just have to do it anyway and watch as I build tolerance and strength and momentum. Afterwards we were all talking about getting involved in community and local food stuff and putting our beliefs into action. I think that this is a good thing.
There was also something interesting said during the book club that I really related to. It was something about sort of being a "Jensenian". Like, this author is so SO thorough, and he is really convincing. I don’t mean to just believe in something without having a healthy dose of skepticism, but he leaves very little room for it. It’s just… a lot of truth. The stuff he doesn’t know, he doesn’t claim to. But anyway, after you read him it’s hard not to just quote him all over the place and sound a little like a Jensen-follower. Anyway, we found ourselves commiserating on the craziness of being a "convert", and how we are conscious of how that must look to skeptics- especially considering the weight of the message. We laughed about it. I can’t really help it though. I’m a bit of a believer.
Quote of the day:
"They’re gonna be mad at us.
They’re gonna be mad at me and you.
They’re gonna be mad at us and all the things we wanna do." (Ani DiFranco)
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that’s very interesting about the lawyer who connects with those people and really has that opinion. I figure that people can find themselves in situations that in a moment are tragic and probably would never find themselves there again. I hadn’t thought of it before, not that I usually think of prisions or jail…I have considered that the system may be very flawed I don’t know what I would suggest changing all the same.
hmmm thanks for thought provoking post!