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The Death Penalty in Our Communities

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Last night, Christopher Wilkins was executed. An admitted killer of many people, Wilkins was deemed unworthy of life. In the midst of thinking about the killing, I began to think about the many deaths that we cause. Three killings of the vulnerable in my home of Denton, Texas stood out. In each of these homicides, the cause of death was our inaction. I imagine there are many more communities that are responsible for similar inaction. Do we all deserve the death penalty?

 

Last Friday night, Richard Gaskin was desperate to get warm. As snow blanketed the ground, the temperature dropped quickly. At 36, Gaskin never expected to be homeless. After a few bad breaks, Gaskin found himself living in a tent in a wooded area behind a local business. On this night, Gaskin was desperate to keep from going back there. Gaskin knew the dangers of the cold. After repeatedly finding rejection, Gaskin reluctantly retreated to the tent. As he grew colder and colder, Gaskin’s phobia of crowds and the anxiety it brought kept him from going to the homeless shelter. Eventually, Gaskin went into shock and died.

 

Last November, Jessica Yankow was desperate to find a place to sleep. When she arrived after the 10pm curfew at the Salvation Army, the door was locked. The more she banged the more she realized that help wasn’t coming. Yankow was forced to sleep outside. Around 5am, a mentally ill man named William Stevens found Yankow and started beating her. Stevens stomped on Yankow’s head and neck until she was unconscious. Stevens fled the scene. A short time later, Yankow died.

 

Last May, Manny Abrego was unable to find a place to sleep. Desperate, Abrego went down into a flood canal and went to sleep under a bridge. Later in the night, a flash flood hit and swept Abrego away. The water kept coming. Eventually, Abrego drowned fighting for air.

 

Jesus talks about logs and specks. In terms of volume, it seems to me that these folks on death row are responsible for a few killings and we are responsible for many more than that. I guess we should stop executing those with specks in their eyes and concentrate on the logs in our own. Let us preserve life and stop promulgating death. Such a trajectory begins with seeing how we are failing to preserve life on all levels of our society. Now, go and sin no more.

 

Amen.

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