There are people in this world who I hate. At least I say I do when I’m venting to friends. A couple of people at work who really get under my skin. Also, Sarah Palin. That guy who made a dumb-ass comment on a friend’s Facebook status. The doctor whose negligence and mental illness caused my mom’s death.
I also hate Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers, who was banned for life by the NBA because of blatant racism. And Clayton Lockett, who killed 19-year-old Stephanie Nieman by shooting her and then burying her alive.
I take pleasure in seeing these people suffer. I won’t lie to you about that. I like knowing that my mom’s doc had her practice limited by the state of New Mexico, that Sterling will almost certainly be forced to give up ownership of his team, and that Lockett died yesterday. It’s hard to think that they deserved anything less.
But I’m troubled by these emotions. I made myself watch all of Sarah Palin’s address to the NRA on Sunday, in which she made her comments about “baptizing” terrorists by water boarding them. I wanted to hear the context. Among other things she called folks like me “clownish little ‘Kumbaya’-humming fairy-tale-inhaling liberals.”
But really, it wasn’t her so much that got my attention. I lived in Alaska for 14 years, and I’ve met Palin. She’s very old news. The crowd, however, riveted my attention. Their cheers, whether they were for Palin’s name-calling of her opponents or for torture, are bouncing around inside my head. And, they’re getting all muddled up with my own cheers for the “justice” meted out by others.
I don’t usually engage in debate on Facebook, especially not on a friend’s post, but I felt compelled to agree with my friend when he expressed horror about Oklahoma’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett. (He eventually died of a heart attack after about an hour of suffering.) I had to comment because the response to my friend’s post was a pile on of cheering for Lockett’s death.
In hearing these cheers of my opponents—which make me sick—I hear echoes of my own cheering. We have a clear sense of what justice looks and sounds like. We know that Lockett deserved to die and, even, to suffer. We lose no sleep over torture. We relish using demeaning words to describe our opponents. We have confidence that we know and understand the intentions of others.
I’m left feeling hollow. That sense of victory, of justice having triumphed doesn’t last very long in the wake of losing a loved one. Nieman’s family will never have Stephanie back in their lives. Torture rarely results in useful information. Banning Sterling for life may serve less to punish him and more to obscure the racism embedded in our schools.
What does last is how we sink into smug hate and how we become caught up in revenge. When we celebrate death and suffering and failure we lose sight of life and hope. Torture and suffering happen in a finite period. But grief and the damage wrought by being the ones who torture and who cheer for it last a long, long time.
Good riddance to Sterling. I’ll not grieve for Clayton Lockett. I hope Palin is never again elected to public office. But I’m not so filled with hate that I believe justice, whatever it is, has won. And, I can’t in good faith pump my fist and cheer about any of this.
There are rifles buried in the countryside for the rising of the moon,
may they lie there long forgotten till they rust away into the ground.
Who will bend this ancient hatred, will the killing to an end?
Who will swallow long injustice, take the devil for a country man?
Who will say “this far no further, oh lord, if I die today?”
James Taylor, “Belfast to Boston”
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