It is often assumed that victims’ families all share a common perspective born of their tragic experience. Most victim outreach programs are tailored to what we think these families want and need. Those left out find themselves victimized again.
April 22 – 28, 2007 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The theme for this year is “Victims’ Rights: Every Victim, Every Time.” As victims, and survivors, we strongly support efforts to ensure that the needs of victims don’t fall through the cracks or fall prey to politics.
The death penalty does not serve victims’ families. It draws resources away from needed support programs, law enforcement and crime prevention. And the trials and appeals endlessly re-open wounds as they are beginning to heal, and it only creates more families who lose loved ones to killing.
Alternatives to the death penalty provide the certainty and punishment that many families need while keeping our communities safe. Critically, alternatives ensure attention is cast where it is needed most – on the survivors – and not on sensational trials or suspects.
As murder victim family members we also share the same concerns as other Americans with the death penalty. We are concerned about innocent people being sentenced to death, about racial and economic disparities and about arbitrariness. But for us the stakes are higher because an innocent person might be executed in a misguided attempt to give us justice. Losing one innocent life to murder is one too many, the taking of another innocent life because of the first is beyond comprehension.
Those who argue for the death penalty often claim to do so on behalf of us, the victims’ families. They say it will give us “closure.” We don’t want the death penalty, and closure is a myth. Every victim, every time needs help, understanding, resources, and support. We don’t need more killing.
If anyone out there has lost a loved one to violence, or provides support to someone who has suffered such a loss, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation is holding a workshop this weekend in Raleigh. The event is intended to provide strength and support to survivors who oppose capital punishment.
People on all sides of the death penalty debate mourn the loss of life that begins the legal process. Abolitionists and those who oppose capital punishment for one reason or another are often assumed to care only about the loss of life that ends that process. Perhaps this week we can set time aside to remember the victims, however they died, and to hope for healing for their families, however they feel about the death penalty.