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Jewish World Review July 31, 2001 / 11 Menachem-Av, 5761

Nat Hentoff

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Killing as a way of healing -- THE more than 1,400 reporters have long since left Terre Haute, Ind. Tim McVeigh's ashes have been scattered, as he wanted. To the end, he would not admit the enormity of his crime's impact on the survivors, and on the families of those murdered in the Oklahoma bombing. Even some opponents of the death penalty have made an exception in his case.

The president is right. Tim McVeigh received due process of law. This point is not true, as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor points out, of some of those who have been executed. And some of those inmates now on death row around the country.

As the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun said when he decided he would "no longer tinker with the machinery of death," there is too often only the appearance of due process. This fact is increasingly evident by the number of those proved innocent and released from death row, sometimes only shortly before they were to be lethally injected.

What would have been fatal mistakes by prosecutors and juries are discovered by new investigators and new appellate lawyers because the trial lawyers in those cases were incompetent. By the end of his case, Tim McVeigh did have first-class lawyers. And whether or not he acted alone, he was -- as he said -- responsible for those deaths.

His execution, however, has by no means brought a resolution of the debate on the death penalty itself. Even a minority of the family members of those he murdered opposed his execution -- by disagreeing that killing is a way of healing.

Bud Welch's 23-year-old daughter, Julie, was one of McVeigh's victims. He said that, at first, he wanted to kill McVeigh all by himself. But over time -- as he told reporter Tovia Smith on National Public Radio -- "I finally came to realize that the reason Julie and 167 others were dead is because of vengeance and rage. When we take him out of his cage to kill him, we will keep the circle of violence going."

On the same National Public Radio program, another parent whose son was murdered told of her way of dealing with her rage and her need for revenge.

Tina Chery's 15-year-old son, Louis D. Brown, was in Boston on his way to a meeting of Teens Against Violence when he was killed in the crossfire of a gang shootout.

Brown, reported Tovia Smith, "used to say he was going to be the first black president of the United States." A year before he was killed, his mother -- after another teen-ager was murdered by a gang member -- furiously wished aloud that all the gang members should be locked in one place, with their guns, so they could finish each other off. Her son was shocked: "I can't believe," he said, "the woman who calls herself my mother is talking about killing somebody."

His mother and his father are now heads of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, teaching a curriculum of nonviolence in the Boston public schools.

Says Tina Chery: "I know this is my best form of reven

ge -- taking my son's message and sharing it with others. I do thirst for revenge, and this is it."

With all the survivors of murdered family members, or any loved one, there is never any final closure. But the reactions of Tina Chery and Bud Welch -- clearly part of a decided minority -- go beyond and beneath the customary arguments about the death penalty.

So does the manifestly understandable reaction of Nancy Ruhe-Munch of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children. When she heard that Bud Welch and other family members of those killed in the Oklahoma bombing were publicly opposing Veigh's execution -- but not opposing final punishment for him -- she said, "I think it's an insult to the other family members."

Bud Welch insists, however, as he told reporter Tovia Smith: "I'm not defending him for one moment. Believe me, I'm not."

The late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan was a devout Catholic. He attended Mass every week. He also opposed capital punishment all the years he was on the bench. "Capital punishment," he told me, "treats members of the human race as nonhumans. It is thus inconsistent with the fundamental premise of the Constitution that even the most base criminal remains a human being possessed of some potential, at least, for human dignity."

He was convinced that more and more Americans would come to believe that. But he also knew it would take a long time. The remorseless Tim McVeigh did not hasten that process.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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