On Monday, TADP supporters in Nashville gathered with thousands of others on Jefferson Street for the annual MLK Day March and rally at Tennessee State University. The day was warm and spirits were high as we made our way down Jefferson Street together. TADP supporters carried banners that included a quote from Dr. King stating, “I do not think God approves the death penalty.”
MLK Day is not only a day to remember and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but also to heed his prophetic call to nonviolence and justice for each member of our society, including those often forgotten or ignored. Too often we celebrate Dr. King without reaffirming our commitment to living out the vision he shared with us–a vision that includes this powerful excerpt from a sermon he gave at the Eutaw Alabama Church during the 1966 Alabama tour and Get-Out-the-Vote campaign:
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Dr. King realized, as others before him, that the only way to end the cycle of violence is to break that cycle, responding in a different way. Too often those of us who work to end the death penalty are depicted as naive about the realities of violence in our world. But, I would argue that many of us are all too familiar with the destructive effects of violence as among our numbers are murder victims’ families, the wrongfully convicted, members of law enforcement, and family members of those on death row or those who have been executed.
All of us, no matter where we are on the issue of the death penalty, want accountability for those who commit violent crime. All of us want to feel safe. All of us want to support murder victims’ families and to ensure that their needs are met. All of us who are committed to fairness, justice, equality, and accountability want these things…we are on the same team. And I don’t believe any of us want a failed policy that perpetuates violence, may convict the innocent, costs millions more than the alternatives, and makes false promises to victims’ families. But I would argue that with the death penalty system, that is just what we’ve got.
Dr. King knew very well he might not live a long life, and he paid the ultimate price for standing up for what he believed. He was not naive about violence. But, he also knew that there was another way to live together, a way that allows us to respond to killing without becoming killers ourselves.
It is not us against them. It is only us, and working together, we can create a better society and system of justice for everyone. So, no matter how we feel about the death penalty, each one of us has the opportunity to listen to those with whom we disagree, find common ground where we can, and work as a team on those things we all care about. This is a lesson we all can keep learning.
Thank you Dr. King for your courage and your calling.
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