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Against violence

11 February 2013, 15:56

After reading yet another tragic story about a life ended much too soon, a life which ended because of a focus of rage, frustration, hatred, resentment, fear and ultimately brutality onto someone else, I already knew what the first reader comment would be.

And I’m sure that you, reader, are sensing what my first argument will be, and are already preparing your arguments against what you know must be coming… I am absolutely against the death penalty. Before reading on, I urge you to lay your ideas down. Keep your emotion, your passion, which is what defines us as a nation, but put the disbelief and need for retribution to one side for now, and simply listen.

I don’t know what I wish to achieve by sharing my thoughts – I suppose what I ultimately want is for each of us to cultivate a critical mind and a different way of thinking about ourselves, and each other, so that our knee-jerk and stifling reactions are examined and evaluated. I want our country to be healed – as do we all.

Why do we always turn to the death penalty as the encompassing solution? I guess one of the reasons is because it is a part of our past – it’s not entirely unfamiliar to us. There was a time when rape and murder was not rampant, as it is now – and perhaps it is natural to link harsh punishments with less crime.

Whenever I read the pro-death comments, the major theme running through the argument is revenge. The perpetrator doesn’t deserve life. The perpetrator has forgone his/her (let’s be honest though – 99% of the time it’s a ‘he’) human rights, and therefore the heinous injuries they inflicted, which turned our stomachs and made us question how anybody could do this to anyone else, are suddenly the ironic answer. Would you, personally, be willing to put the attacker to a long and draw-out death? Hear their cries, moans; taste their blood? See their life, and your humanity, leave this earth? Because ‘hanging is too good’.

I’m sure many of you would answer, yes, bring it. This is about justice, not revenge. I’d do what I had to.

And this saddens me. It makes me feel ill. However, I refuse to accept that we are all as hard, devoid of joy and hope, mistaken, murderous, callous and accepting of death as our only hope of living and surviving as those monsters who can rape a 17 year old girl with a broken bottle, until her intestines spill out of her body, exposed and humiliated.

Please understand that by not condoning the death penalty, I am not condoning violence of any kind. I will never lower myself, and rob myself of the essence of what makes me special – my ability to feel, to smile, to cry and to love – and nor should you.

We are not animals. We are all people – even those who murder and rape. And for me this means that we have the power to choose. Each moment contains a choice. We choose to murder and rape.

Unfortunately, there are too, too many people in our society who make terrible, violent, cruel and unfathomable choices every day – and the people who suffer are usually women.

Putting the death penalty back on the table will not take choice away. It will not dissuade those who already feel that life can offer them nothing. What fear does death hold if we don’t value life?

I abhor the levels of violent crime we experience, and I am sickened by those who disrespect life.

And I am uncomprehending of those who think that a threat of death for crimes will improve anything. A solution is desperately needed – but the short-term option of a hangman’s noose is not it.

I honestly do not believe that any possible solution which takes 15-20 minutes to implement (the amount of time until cardiac arrest by hanging – correct me if I’m wrong) is going to be effective in dealing with issues that have come about because of years and years of misinformation, ignorance, hate, a need for power, intolerance of difference and excuses made for men by both men and women because ‘that’s what men are like’.

And if we are to continue in a practical vein, I would add that in a country where both police and judicial staff are under-staffed and over-worked, I would not want to add to their lot the responsibility of prescribing life or death.

And this is not because I want to protect the rights of criminals – but because I want to see a fundamental change in our communities that changes mindsets, and ensures that when a young life hangs in the balance, and an opportunity to claim power over another presents itself, power that people do not experience in their daily lives – the right choice is made.

A pattern of male dominance, female subjugation because of tradition, economic and social inequalities and a fear of female power, the idea that hope is a myth and a general feeling of powerlessness over our lives all contribute to a spread of women-focused violence, among other things.

Another theme that runs through reader comments is that our government is totally incapable of tackling these issues and setting an example for positive growth and healing, and respect and appreciation for women – and I whole-heartedly agree. All of us – black, white, coloured, Indian, Chinese, straight, gay, male, female or other deserve better.

We need each other. We need to vote out corruption and disdain, and elect a body who realise that they are public servants, who’s job it is to work with us (not for us or against us) in ensuring that young girls can rely on men to respect and value their feminine power and not be threatened by it, men and women are empowered in their communities and are able to fill valuable roles and provide for their families, and children do not have to be raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles or brothers and sisters who do not have the means or support to do so effectively.

However, government is only one part (albeit an important one) of that solution which we desperately need. We need to teach our sons (and daughters) that girls/women are valued, strong and deserving of nothing less than respect – we are different but equal and each have something unique to offer the world.

I know that this article will be dismissed by many as nothing but sentiment – but I honestly don’t believe that the death penalty will deter offenders, or that more bloodshed will heal us.

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