A saint’s scheduled execution was widely protested and decried in Georgia. A sinner’s scheduled execution in Texas was largely ignored.
On Sept. 21, 2011, two men were killed by the state. One man, Troy Davis, was innocent. His execution sparked a massive outcry. The other, Lawrence Russell Brewer, was not at all innocent. No one said a word about his death.
Last week, a massive movement erupted online in an attempt to stop the execution of Kelly Gissendaner in Georgia. Her redemption story grabbed our attention and our devotion. On Wednesday, Manuel Vasquez is scheduled to be killed by the state of Texas, and it seems we couldn’t care less.
Kelly was deemed reformed and worthy. Manuel, apparently, is not.
Manuel, an alleged hitman for the Mexican mafia, was found guilty of brutal, heinous, and excessively violent crimes. He is the first person scheduled for state killing since Kelly was temporarily spared execution last week.
And the difference in Christians’ reactions to both scheduled executions is damning and shameful. Last week, we all had #kellyonmymind, so much so that it started trending and even grabbed the attention of national news outlets. Christians spoke out passionately against her execution. As with Troy Davis, we signed petitions, held vigils, and kept watch at the hour death was scheduled.
But it seems as if Christians weren’t speaking out against the death penalty in general but only against the particular use of it on her as fellow Patheos blogger Erin Wathen noted last week.
The social media silence by Christians this week regarding Manuel’s looming execution speaks volumes about who we really value.Personally, I am thankful Kelly was spared, even temporarily. It was heartening to see so many Christians speak out against her execution. But it also reveals the problem with death penalty activism and the problem with Christians in general. We were talking about the morality and exceptionalism of individuals, not the immorality of the death penalty itself. We were talking about individual injustices, not the systemic ones that make people of color targets for harsher prison sentences. It is troubling that it takes a person like Kelly or Troy Davis to provoke us into speaking up at all, but in both cases, I’m no longer convinced the outcry was because people believed the death penalty was wrong or immoral, but because they believed it was wrong in those particular cases.
Any movement that relies on moral exemplars more than moral principle is little more than spectacle. If we attempt to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice only when we find a worthy moral exemplar, then our nonviolent version of justice is just as capricious and fickle as the violent, retributive kind the state employs. We are implicitly justifying the majority of state killings in this country not just with our silence but with our flash-in-the-pan advocacy of worthy individuals.
And so history repeats itself. A moral exemplar in Georgia is deemed worthy to be saved while we sit silently as an unworthy sinner goes to his execution in Texas.
Manuel Vasquez will die Wednesday night at 6 p.m.
I doubt there will be a massive outcry by clergy and other Christians for Texas to spare him.
I doubt there will be famous theologians speaking out passionately in his defense.
I doubt there will be hashtag movements that trend.
I doubt there will be very many people who have Manuel on their minds come Wednesday night when he dies.
So until we can say killing people is wrong regardless of whether people are guilty of their crimes, state executions will continue.
Until we can say killing people is wrong regardless of whether they are remorseful or reformed, state executions will not be abolished.
Until we can say #ManuelOnMyMind with the same ferocity with which we said #KellyOnMyMind, the state will keep on killing. Killing in our names and on our behalf.