Courtroom Drama


I watched some of the victim impact statements of the Parkland Massacre court hearings yesterday in Florida and I felt quite disturbed by what I saw and what I heard. I heard people calling the perpetrator a piece of shit, and others hoping that he rots in hell.


It seems to me that this exercise does nothing to help anyone in the least. The hurt and anger felt by loved ones is deep and ferocious even, and this needs to be expressed and dealt with, and those people all need help to recover from what happened to them and to their children. A courtroom is not the place for this. The fact that there are so many of them can also lead to a crowd feeling that feeds on itself, becoming more embittered instead of easing.


Many states in America have the death penalty and many people in America are of that mentality, believing in the Old Testament law of ‘an eye for and eye’. That is a simple form of justice. You pay an equal price for what you do. I was also taught that this ‘Lex Talionis’ was important in protecting people from an explosion of revenge seeking that would set tribe against tribe.


But the judicial killing of a criminal, I suggest, also solves nothing and helps nothing. I am against the death penalty completely. I am also against the feeling of wanting someone to rot in hell. If that sentiment is the loose expression of a person’s pain then fair enough, but if it truly expresses what a person wants for another person, it is an ugly death wish that not only seeks to destroy another, but also damages one’s own heart and one’s own ability to live a good and peaceful life.


Where a society has become violent, people are also driven to feel violent in return. It is the Wild West all over again. Here in the UK we tend to look at America and shake our heads at the violence and loss of life that happens there. But here in the UK, I read today, over 300 people died in our prisons last year. Many people in our prisons should not be there. We lock people up. We punish them but we do not rehabilitate. Many people would like ‘to throw away the key’. It is ‘rot in hell’ all over again.


Doctors and nurses and care workers come to our aid when we are sick. We are also waking up to the same need to be applied for those with mental illness. The victims of the Parkland Massacre need a great deal of help as they try to carry on with their lives after such terrible loss. And those who do wrong need to be detained and helped, not damned. The Lord has his own way of dealing with us all when we do wrong. As Saint Paul wrote to the Romans, ‘Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. (Romans 19:12)


Brian Fahy

5 November 2022

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