Joyless Justice: The Death Penalty and the Charleston Church Murderer

01/10/2017 06:56 pm ET

Almost six years ago, upon the death of Osama bin Laden, may his memory be erased, I wrote a piece entitled "Upon the Death of an Enemy." In it, I wrote:

We do not rejoice at the death of our enemy. The implementation of justice is not a joyful celebration. As Rabbi Cohen writes of watching the recording of Adolf Eichmann's trial, "In this man's eyes are reflected the ghosts of his uncountable victims...and also nothing at all." I am riveted by the face of Bin Laden. I do not want to look into his eyes. Those eyes witnessed the snuffing out of so much life; those eyes remained willfully blind to the pain and loss he caused. I believe justice has indeed been served today. Joylessly, as is appropriate.

Today, a mass-murderer has been sentenced to death for unspeakable violence wrought with a too-easily acquired gun. An unrepentant criminal has been served with a judicial sentence I disagree with politically (and understand emotionally). The blood crying out from the ground of the Charleston house of worship affectionately known as “Mother Emanuel” has been heard. Yes, I still do not believe the death penalty to be effective nor morally correct. Yes, I do believe that a great evil has been judged soundly by a court of citizens, that a societal, deliberate response to mass murder has been rendered, and that the families of good people, bible learners, slain in a Charleston church will rest a bit easier tonight.

As I shared six years ago:

According to rabbinic legend, when the angels rejoiced at the victory of God and the deliverance of the Children of Israel at the Red Sea, the angels invited God to join their celebration. God declined, saying, "How can I rejoice when my children are drowning?" God's response, as intuited by Jewish tradition, teaches that the very people who enslaved and tortured us were still human beings when viewed through sacred eyes.

This broken world demands that we cry again with “Mother Emanuel,” the cosmic Mother-God-Who-is-within-Us, for our fallen sisters and brothers in Charleston.

But, dear friends, we must remember to sing louder than weapons, so that we might experience a deeper justice than eye-for-an-eye retribution, that we might end evil, not just react to it.

May our vulnerable world sleep a little easier tonight.

Amen.

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