Growing up I was taught that we must punish those who commit crimes and make them pay, sometimes, even with their lives. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a toot.
In the streets, if you hurt our people, we will hurt yours. Brown on brown justice. Sometimes it could cause serious injuries, even death. And I was the victim and victimizer of too many gangs, or group violent acts, too many times. There is an adrenaline rush during these conflicts. Vengeance was ours to have.
That was unless a white person committed a crime against Latinos. In that case, we never got vengeance or justice. So-called “justice” was, and remains to date, swift and onerous when it comes to a justice system that favors the white community by judging, convicting, and punishing a person of color twice as harshly.
That can be infuriating! it can make one feel like the need for retaliation is justified. It can make one redirect the anger and frustration to the wrong place or the wrong people. Therefore, at 21 years old, I decided that I would not fight any more Latinos. After all, my fellow Latinos were not the ones calling me racist names, cheating me of my salary, or spraying pesticides on me.
But the anger, the vengeance, remained. That is the thing with vengeance, it makes you think that you just might have won something, but, in fact, you have lost something; or perhaps everything.
It wasn’t until I joined the United Farmworkers Union that I learned from labor leaders and civil-rights activists—such as Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the Filipino Pete Velasco, that nonviolence should be my way of life. Since then, I have learned of the racism and economics of the judicial system. I was able to see how it picks on people of color and very poor white people, but especially how it is stacked against the African American community. Now, I am committed to protecting not just the environment, but people, and that includes standing up against the Death Penalty.
History tells us that we can trace the death penalty from slavery to the 13th amendment, then to lynching, Jim Crow, and the suppression and destruction of communities of color. In that process, over 170 death row incarcerated people were executed and later found innocent. Many of them were my personal friends.
Prosecutors have built their reputations on the deaths of men and women by claiming that they would bring closure to the victim’s families. But, even if you could torture and kill the suspected person a hundred times, there is no closure. The loss and pain are buried deep, and resurface often, unless you can come to peace with your life, and perhaps forgive the perpetrator.
While many victims loved ones want the death penalty, there is a growing chorus of their families who call for the end of it; including the families of Martin Luther King and the Kennedys.
We are a smart country, and we should understand that there is a better way to protect society than “an eye for an eye.” There is a reason to keep someone locked up, or in a mental hospital for treatment, but there is no need for such a capital punishment. After all, the people on death row grow up as part of society’s most vulnerable populations. Think about it, there are no rich people on death row.
If a government cannot manage its potholes, it surely should not decide on who lives and dies.
Every year there is a fast and vigil from June 29th to July 2nd, prior to the 4th of July weekend, at the US Supreme Court to call for an end to the death penalty. This year, I was there again to raise my voice and prayers on behalf of this human rights issue.
To be honest, I do not know what my reaction would be if someone super close to me is killed. I do not know what would happen to what little sanity I have left, but I pray that society will protect me from myself. I can only hope that my community would hold me close, never letting go, until I can handle the pain and the loss.
Since I became nonviolent, I learned that love and forgiveness are strong medicines that we all need to take more than once. But I am afraid of the emotions and violence within me. I need society to protect us all. You can stop hate and vengeance if you use love as your road to redemption. There is no room for vengeance.
So, If I am someday killed, I hope that no one is executed in my name.
Edited by Michelle Myers