It’s Memorial Day and I think it’s sad that on a day we remember those who died in war (for me, all the unnecessary deaths that have occurred throughout my lifetime), I must write about twelve people in a Boston courtroom deciding to kill Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

One person might not seem like much of a do compared to those who’ve died in all our wars, but for me that decision by those twelve people turned a light on how we as a species operate.

! know the two Tsarnaev brothers murdered three and injured hundreds of others. Some see killing him as more than a fair trade—though a poll shows that 73 percent of Boston’s population was against the death sentence a month before it was handed down by those twelve. In a state that outlaws the death penalty.

I don’t see a fair trade. Just another murder to go along with the others.

The day their verdict was announced I was in New York visiting my infant granddaughters. My first reaction was relief that Mari and Vivian can’t read. How could I explain that my home town decided to murder someone? That those twelve people felt it was “appropriate” to kill another human under the federal government cover of the death penalty. The first execution, by the way, of any “terrorist” since 9/11.

What would I have said to them if they had been able to understand? That a human life is worth next to nothing? Really, all you have to do is open a newspaper to see that it’s cheaper than dirt. Bombs, beheadings, drones, and routine day-to-day murders. We seem willing to kill each other as easily as we step on ants.

I could sit here and detail all the “logical” arguments against the death penalty. How it has proven not to be a deterrent. How we might mistakenly murder an innocent person. How it costs the government more to kill people than have them serve life sentences. How many of the victims of the bombing–people who lost loved ones or had been maimed–spoke out against murdering Tsarnaev.

Not gonna do that. That’s not my point today. For me, the questions are: Do we want to step on ants and murder people? Is it possible to have institutions and governments people might learn from and even respect? Or are we willing to abide starving children, fouling our environment, and sanctioning state murder? Is that the kind of species we really want to be? Or can we be better than that?

What kind of world do you want your grandchildren to grow up in?

But, but, look at the rest of the world. They kill, starve their own, slice off heads, and seem more than willing to fight wars. If the rest of the world is like that, why should we be any different?

I grew up when history books touted our revolution as a beacon of freedom for the rest of the world. Which I believed. And still believe that we can become an example of a kind and loving people. But, honestly? I think I’m going to die believing that we’ve contributed at least as much, if not more, barbarism as any country throughout history. Since 1776 the United States has been at war 93% of the time. Call me crazy but from where I sit right now, the only beacon I see is blood.

I’ve written about my issues with Boston’s response to the Marathon bombings before and have been pretty critical about the way my city’s population was more than willing to ignore their own civil liberties. But there is no doubt that in the bombing’s aftermath the town came together: people treating each other with respect and kindness, often  exhibiting the very best of our species’ behavior. “Boston Strong” was a phrase that meant the unification of my city. That we could stand shoulder to shoulder as brothers and sisters. That we, as a city, could be larger, better than those who maimed and killed. That Boston Strong now seems shattered by those twelve people.

My town has a proud but flawed history. An important station destination for the Underground Railroad coupled with the New England slave trade. The first school desegregation case in American history (1848) and rock-throwing racists in the 1970s when desegregation was finally implemented. A city of neighborhoods where it’s difficult to find one that’s actually integrated. And now we have another ugly stain on our history.

I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy, Tinkerbell, or even Santa Claus. I don’t believe in Utopia.

But I do believe our species can be a whole lot better than we’ve shown. Don’t you think it’s time to start? Do rivers have to run red before we see the folly of war? Why can’t we try to feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the ill, and begin to turn our back on the notion that it’s everyone for themselves?

What kind of world do you want your grandchildren to inhabit?

What did the people we are remembering today die for?

I think they died believing in making our world a safer, more humane place to live. Where Boston Strong doesn’t crumple into Boston Shame.

What kind of world do you want your grandchildren to inhabit?

In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute. ~ Thurgood Marshall

10 thoughts on “BOSTON SHAME

  1. I have been thinking about what you said all day. what strikes me is that the death penalty people want revenge, but their idea of revenge is stupid and short sighted. I would prefer to die than spend the rest of my life in prison with no hope of ever getting out. the death penalty people have a primitive blood lust that will not make them happy and will let the people they kill off the hook

    • Ron–I honestly don’t know which I’d choose of the two, but for me the issue has little or nothing to do with which is worse. It has all to do with what kind of example we want our society to promote. And state sanctioned murder is not one I want. We could use all sorts of cruelty our government inflicts upon some of our people–hunger for example–but to me killing cuts to the core. Why should we care about hunger when we don’t even care about killing people. And in this instance it’s even worse. We’re a non-death penalty state but the Feds took it upon themselves to impose a trial that allowed for it. It just makes me shake my head to ponder that.

  2. If I was convicted of a capital crime and had my choice between life without parole and execution, I’d pick execution in a heartbeat. Being locked up in an iron box for the rest of my life is far more frightening to me than a sudden death.

    It’s probably a moot point anyway. The Boston Bomber will go to the top of the prison hit list as soon as his bus stops outside the prison gate. Sure, he’ll spend some time under protective custody to prevent this, but with the glacial speed with which our criminal justice system works we all know he will still be living and filing expensive appeals ten years from now.

    Some cheap druggie rapist will get a half-second opportunity someday and the bomber will die a far more painful death than anything Massachusetts could have cooked up for him. They have really nasty ways of ending lives among prisoners.

    So I don’t have any strong opinions about the death penalty one way or the other. Horror and misery awaits him, nothing else.

    If the nation had a more perverse sense of humor, we could do like North Korea and tie them to a post on an artillery range and fire 50 or so antiaircraft guns at them from 100 feet. Now get even weirder…

    Put the execution of pay-per-view, and the monies raised by people tuning in to see him could go to cancer research, St. Jude’s Hospital for Children, various shelters for battered women and homeless children. They could sure use the money and whoever would pay the tab and tune in would have to look at themselves in the mirror the next morning, not me.

    Either way, he’s smiled the last smile he will ever have in his life. To hell with him. He’s not worth the concern. We read all kinds of lofty philosophers and do-gooders daily telling us how precious human life is. They’re wrong. Human life is one of the cheapest commodities on this planet, always temporary at best and vicious and dangerous to others at the worst.

    I don’t really care what happens to the little freak as long as he never sees daylight or draws a free breath again.

    • Kent–“To hell with him. He’s not worth the concern. We read all kinds of lofty philosophers and do-gooders daily telling us how precious human life is. They’re wrong. Human life is one of the cheapest commodities on this planet, always temporary at best and vicious and dangerous to others at the worst.” This is the root of my problem and I believe it should be *the* top priority of every thinking person. You sentence reflects our species at its worst and do gooder or not, I believe we can be better. If not then consider what your grandchildrens lives are going to look like. And their children’s lives. I simply think it’s time to become human.

  3. For me, the most shocking facet of this whole case is that its express purpose was to create terror amoung quite innocent people. It was placed so as to cause maximum injuries. The people who were maimed and mutilated were, as such, non specific targets – the blast was not designed to target any particular person or group – but to wreak havoc at random. I don’t think it’s possible to negotiate or discuss recognition of the bomb setters’ mandate in these circumstances. It was a callous, pre-meditated act of murder and destruction of people who have absolutely nothing to do with said mandate. How else should we deal with such savage and barbaric behaviour, but remove such people from our community. It’s been a tough call for the jury – a matter of life and death in fact. I think they have made the correct decision, I’m relieved that I was not one of the panel and feel we should admire the courage they have shown. Especially as the sentence will almost certainly be commuted to life without parole. I respect your values that you have so well expressed Mr Klein – I thought I would just add mine to your fine column.
    Frank Bow

    • Frank–Just call me Zach. I understand the context in which the bombing took place. And understand that it had ripples beyond that of most murders. Still, while I agree we need to remove certain people from society, it does nothing but prolong the drive to kill when the state (or Feds) place their imprimatur on murder.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the column. Much appreciated.

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