I have 2 young children and when one does something that annoys the other, like use the indoor trapeze for too long, the aggrieved child will lash out wishing horrible things upon their sibling, sometimes they use their fists and feet trying to inflict as much pain as possible. It can get ugly.
I was reminded by this pre-school logic when considering an article about the mother of a drug overdose victim who said that the condemned Bali 9 drug smugglers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan deserved to die. Her reasoning was that her daughter died of a heroin overdose and Chan and Sukumaran “viscous criminals”. She also praised the Indonesian death penalty for drug dealers.
Strangely, I knew where she was coming from.
For a long time after my twin sister died of a heroin overdose I swore vengeance on her ex-boyfriend, then who introduced her to heroin and was instrumental in her life spiralling out of control. She was taking back control when she died, working as a carer for autistic teenagers in an assisted living center in the northern suburbs, and had been accepted back into university. Despite this she was still caught by the opiate spell in times of stress or distress and one Sunday morning in March 1998 after an overnight shift she took some heroin at my parents house and died.
I would tell people if I saw her ex-boyfriend I would run him over; that he didn’t deserve to live. In the throes of grief I wanted anyone I perceived as having a hand in my sisters downfall to have something precious taken away from them.
Many years later I was having a weekend breakfast in Fitzroy Street, St Kilda with a friend when I saw my sisters ex-boyfriend shuffling up the street. He looked pathetic. His clothes were dirty, he had white flecks of whatever around his mouth and a shuffling demented demeanour. Before I knew what I was doing, I was on my feet and marching up to him. “Hi Stewart”, I said shaking his hand. “Great to see you”.
I’ll never forget the relief I felt at letting go of the grief and anger in this strange act of spontaneous forgiveness. After, I sat down to my Eggs Benedict and Cafe Late elated. The look in his eyes had been incredible. For an instant our eyes connected and we shared in a millisecond, the elapsed years of grief, rage, shame, and relief.
I felt slightly ashamed at having wished ill upon him, particularly at publicly stating I would run him over. It was the actions of a toddler, a pre-school tantrum.
Recently I was similarly ashamed when I found myself equivocating about whether the death penalty was justified for the Bali 9 drug smugglers, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.
For an instant I forgot how absurd it is that a government can take another persons life in the name of justice, instead I selfishly remembered my own pain and wished vengeance upon the condemned men. In doing so, I was wishing vengeance on all condemned prisoners everywhere.
According to Amnesty there were almost 1,000 death sentences carried out during 2013 in 22 countries. The real number could be higher because this excludes China which is secretive about the number of prisoners executed. It’s estimated that 2,400 are put to death each year. In case you’ve forgotten China is one of Australia’s largest trading partners. Our government has been oddly silent about China’s love of the death penalty.
Oil rich Saudi Arabia still practices gruesome public beheadings with Amnesty saying they beheaded almost 80 people in 2014. In some cases the decapitated body is also crucified and displayed publicly to warn fellow citizens against transgressing Sharia law. Saudi Arabia have executed more women in the past 12 months than ISIS. Again, our government is strongly silent.
The United States executed 35 people in 2014 with the states of Missouri and Texas responsible for more than half of the executions.
Artist Ben Quilty has received a lot of press for his admirable campaigns protesting against the death penalty for the condemned Australian drug dealers. He has been quoted as saying, “they have been rehabilitated”. Quilty is clearly coming from a good place but it concerns me that he has focused on their rehabilitation and good works, rather than the barbaric taking of a human life, the sanctity of human life and the need to defend it at all costs.
To do otherwise is to prioritise the lives of Australian drug dealers over Chinese billionaires or any other poor benighted human being. If the death penalty is wrong, then we need to protest it at all costs.
It’s simple: Killing is wrong. Chan and Sukumaran don’t deserve to die. No one does.