It is hard being surrounded by the pain, hardship and hatred that is rampant in this old world. I notice the wrongness of it even more since my life has slowed down. I am often crippled by despair when faced with cruelty and injustice. The recent murders in Charleston have been a struggle to process. I must say, the young man who committed those atrocities seems less than human to me. There is something sadly rotten about his inner core. Not only do I grieve for those innocent people who were murdered, I grieve for the death of the murderer's humanity. That he sat through that peaceful time with those good people, found it hard to perform his evil deeds because the people "were so nice to him," and then to have still killed them for the sake of ideological hatred and divisiveness, that is pure evil. There is no getting around it.
His crimes are extreme. He wants to incite a race war. He wants to turn humanity upside down and in his bizarre notion of reality he wants us all to behave like sick, rabid animals.
His are crimes against humanity. All crimes are, actually, because we are a community. When crimes are committed within our community all of our humanity is diminished. We all suffer. Crimes have that ripple effect. Some crimes are worse and more far-reaching than others. And that is why it is important that the punishment fits the crime.
I wonder what the best and most effective punishment for this particular young man might be? What might best benefit the community - the entire country? Let us assume that he is neither mentally ill nor of subhuman intelligence. If he is simply an evil man who committed a heinous atrocity, what is the best way for him to atone for his sins? Is it even possible?
It is easy to fantasize in anger and imagine him being executed in pain, or to have him spend his entire life in solitary confinement. But what is appropriate punishment for someone like him, someone who wanted to plunge an entire country into "race war?" Remember, he is someone who wants evil to triumph over good, for ignorance to be valued over intellect. This is heady stuff!
Punishment is supposed to provide a means for a criminal to atone for a crime so s/he can be forgiven and reintegrated into the community. Sometimes we lose sight of the rehabilitation aspect of imprisonment. But what would it take to rehabilitate a man like this? Could something clear this murderer's mind of hatred, jealousy, and fear? What would enable him to think instead of just feel? How could he begin to understand exactly what he has done? If only he could begin to comprehend the vast and terrifying repercussions of his crime, victim by victim. He would experience the overwhelming sadness and loss his actions engendered in each family member and friend. He would see clearly how his actions fanned the flames of hatred and distrust in both the bad people and in the good people throughout this troubled country. Let's face it, making bad people more hateful is like taking a day off; but doing something so terrible that it makes good people begin to hate is a sincerely horrifying transgression.
Is there any possible way for him to atone for his actions beyond understanding what he did and then suffering endless regret? And if understanding and regret are not possible, is there really any reason for this young man to continue to live? I hate asking that question. I do not have an answer.
However, I do know this. Those family members who stood up and forgave him the very day after the murders are the heroes of humanity. They stand as an example for every person who ever wanted to be more fully human. Why? Because they are good people who refused to hate. In doing so, they triumphed over evil and their actions are our hope for the future.