More often than not, when our staff goes out to make a presentation in the community, we will get the comment, “You would feel differently about the death penalty if someone you loved was brutally murdered.” Of course, I cannot pretend to know how that reality must feel for a loved one–the devastation, the rage, the pain that never goes away.
And yet, when I get such a comment, going to the heart of many people’s support for the death penalty, I usually respond by saying, “You are right. I don’t know how I would feel, but I hope that I would choose to respond in the same way that some murder victims’ family members who I am privileged to know have responded.”
Last night, I had the pleasure of sharing a meal and conversation with several family members of those who have lost children, siblings, and parents to murder, all who believe that the death penalty does nothing to bring healing, and in fact, only creates a more violent society and more devastated victims.
This group of family members have come together with other TCASK activists to create the Murder Victims’ Family Speakers Bureau. The Speakers Bureau partners a victim’s family member with an activist who then become a speaking team, making presentations to faith communities, on college campuses, and to legislators with the goal of ending the death penalty in Tennessee.
The hope is that the team can support one another, providing both with inspiration and confidence as they talk with various groups. While the family member shares a very difficult story of personal tragedy, the activist shares the facts about the failure of the death penalty as a public policy. Not only can such a team share the message of abolition in a powerful and personal way but can also inspire other victims’ families who are opposed to the death penalty to find their voice, a voice which may have been silenced by the current system–a system often determined to seek the death penalty even, at times, against the wishes of the family.
There is no greater witness to the healing power of forgiveness than these courageous family members who, in spite of their pain, choose to seek a way to healing which does not require the death of another person. As Clemmie Greenlee, the mother of a son who was murdered on the streets of Nashville often says, “Why would I, the Mama of a murdered son, want to see another Mama’s son murdered? I can’t live with that.”
In the tradition of Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights and the Journey of Hope–organizations of family members speaking out against the death penalty–TCASK hopes that this Speakers Bureau adds a much needed voice to the discussion of the death penalty in Tennessee while providing a powerful witness to the citizens of our state that there is a better way to support victims’ families.
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