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Donna Marsh O'Connor Headshot

Mourning for America

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I am the mother of a murder victim so I know something about mourning and profound loss. I remember, too, the James Byrd murder. I remember that his daughter tried to get George W. Bush to sign a hate crimes bill in the state of Texas and that as she did she cried, as only the loved one of someone dead cries. As Molly Ivins once reported, at that meeting, not only was there a refusal to sign, Bush never even offered Byrd's daughter a tissue.

The James Byrd murder rocked me to the core. It was the absolute demonstration of a kind of hate that culminates in an intense act of brutality. It is racism almost to its most heinous. Almost to the height of racism's logical extension. And still -- there is no reason that a civilized nation should take this step: to coldly, dispassionately end the life of even the most heinous of criminals because in the end no one walking this earth knows what that line really represents. Of that I am certain.

How much more effective would it have been to really address our racist tendencies? To insist on compassion and caring as related to a set of values, a set of critical thinking skills that America has abandoned in the educational paradigm in any way but the most surface and that has led to the practice of its opposite. Our schools are filled with hate run amok. Our communities are at war. Politics in both the local and public spheres is so reliant upon beating the character of anyone in service that we no longer attract enough people with the intelligence and/or integrity to know the difference between principles and jingoistic sloganing. And should we talk about wars? Wars, at least in large part, perpetrated upon people who represent those who committed a criminal act, not people who actually committed that criminal act. When we attack those who never attack us, we render our collective hate acceptable to the masses.

James Byrd died as a result of the dismissal of the African American male in the south as a genuine human being with a soul by three men who were motivated to extend the metaphor. The death of Troy Davis points to America's culpability in Byrd's murder.

Where will the killing stop?

We execute men. We surrender our collective soul.

This is why this morning we are, those of us who know, in mourning.

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