The Stain of Murder

They’re going to kill that guy. Who, other than some momentarily swooning tweener girls, will weep for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber? Well, a few people, probably. There is something about that excellent head shot he’s got that speaks to the lost potential here. His lawyers are going to make the “my older brother made me” argument, and while family psychiatry hardly absolves a grown man responsibility for a hideous (or “heinous,” as it’s almost universally described) act of mass murder, I can’t be the only one wondering what kind of life he could have lived if his brother just wanted to put on a play.

Life can feel so empty, so dispiriting, for lost souls at the social periphery that the temptation to accept an imaginary mission from God, joining a war without sanity in order to jump-start your sense of importance with violence, can trump all human connection. Tsarnaev gave in, or he allowed himself to be bullied into giving in to that temptation, and now he will likely die.

Good riddance? No. No it’s not a good riddance. Sure, there will be those who have had their lives ravaged by this man who will feel the need for some measure of revenge, just as there will be those sickened by one more death in an atrocity with no true closure. Still, for those who want the revenge, the eventual execution will no doubt leave some aftertaste of disappointment. If revenge is what our justice system calls for, wouldn’t real revenge allow a crowd of marathon victims to attack the young man with hammers and machetes, hacking his limbs from him and then finally letting one contest winner drive his thumbs through the guy’s eyes into his brain? Isn’t that what revenge calls for? Not some sterile state-run execution, surely? It’s such a clean, fussy way we collectively kill people that it can’t have the cathartic effect desired.

Also, it’s murder. There are arguments for capital punishment, but they aren’t religious. A lot of conservatives support the death penalty, and they are free to do so and I respect their passion, but they should renounce their religions. Vengeance is God’s.

Maybe God wants something more from this guy. Wants him to find the beauty of the universe in the grains of sand in the concrete of his cell. Wants him to eventually find that human connection. Maybe there’s a bug hiding in a crack God created just so some murderer could observe it. I don’t know what he wants; the guy’s weird.

You don’t believe in God? Then how can you believe in a state wise enough to judge absolutely?

It’s easy enough to envision some purpose other than murder or death for Tsarnaev, because he’s young and slightly handsome in the abstract (some may only see evil, of course). It’s harder to summon any warmer notions for Frazier Glenn Cross, the Klansman who killed three people at a Jewish community center. With his history of hatred, surely this is the ideal candidate for death? Never mind that Tsarnaev committed the graver crime; if you had to choose, wouldn’t you kill Cross first? Points out the hideous, nay, heinous subjectivity we’re prone to when considering taking the lives of others. If we’re so swayed by a pretty face or ugly words, how can we be trusted to the mete out ultimate justice?

Fortunately, most convicts on death row lack the evil charisma for us to even consider them outside of their crimes. We call them monsters, forget about them, and then kill them. Because killers aren’t people. Killers are monsters.

Of course, together, as a nation, we kill people all the time.