Do I sound like an old school hippie with that title or what? But I could not escape the cliché as I have followed the coverage of the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh yesterday. Let me be clear – the guy should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, but he is also clearly a very disturbed and sick individual due human compassion in the justice process.
I think it is because anti-Semitism is probably humanity’s oldest bigotry and also because it is the one that has been put into practice on a grander and more systemic scale than any other, it is easy to get pretty wound up when we see something like this. Shooting up schools and post offices is horrific enough, but when it is done to a synagogue, well we flash to death camps in eastern Europe and we shudder in the deepest parts of our souls. But this is not that, this is a human gone heinously and horribly awry that has chosen Jews as the outlet for his brokenness instead of fellow students or co-workers. And that is all it is.
Just this morning I wrote about the necessity to be moral when arguing from morality. The justice process in a situation like this certainly needs to bear that in mind.
No reasonable person is going to disagree that this was a crime of the highest order calling for, as the federal prosecutor said, “justice in this case will be swift and it will be severe.” But if in executing said justice we fail to treat the perpetrator with the humanity and dignity he failed to grant his victims, are we not on the same road he travelled? Justice in this case will say more about us than it will the perpetrator. And given the state of our civil debate in recent times, I am worried about us.
I wonder how long it will be before this breaks down into “a debate” about the death penalty and TV will feature shouting matches over what real justice is. I wonder if there will be people carrying signs outside the jail, storming the doors and calling for a roadside tree-hanging? Saddest of all, I wonder how long it will be before we read or hear someone wondering why a massacre of Jews gets so much sympathy, but a massacre of group XYZ does not. All the while, some producer somewhere, better suited for Jerry Springer than cable news, will be smiling.
We all need to rediscover our common humanity. That lies in more than simply “identifying” with the victims and the group of which they were a part. We have to find the humanity in the perpetrator, deeply warped and hidden though it may be. We have to refuse the ugly producers of the world that are going to try and draw us in debate because, “that’s good TV,” and focus on the humanity of those they want us to debate.
We have to rise above our baser nature.