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USA Today re: McVeigh (1997)

Mr. Juan Walte

Letters to the Editor

USA Today

As one who believes the death penalty is wrong, the McVeigh decision saddens me. I believe it was a defining moment for America and America failed itself. One can't fault the jury, who are after all citizens subject to the same fearsome rhetoric as all of us. This was a failure of national leadership. President Clinton and Attorney General Reno's calls for more death set in motion a tide that would take great strength to resist.

Ironically, the only source of such strength was in the family members of victims who spoke against death for McVeigh. The father of one of them reminded us that she had said, "Dad, the death penalty only teaches hate." She was right, of course, but in her innocence unaware that it is not only the death penalty that teaches hate, but also those in authority with the power to lead, heal, and inspire, but lacking the courage to meet their obligations.

A great country needs a leader with the courage to say that McVeigh's vicious act will not be tolerated; nor, however, will we stoop to his level. To fulfill our destiny means to rise above that which is wrong rather than be reduced to the behavior of the least among us.

We Americans have chosen to live together in freedom, with all the joyous possibilities and mammoth risks that choice implies, in the belief that humans are capable of reaching a level of community and understanding never before known. We are capable of meeting this challenge. Together, we can reach out, comfort neighbors who have suffered and solve the social problems that generate inhumane behavior. And we can do all this because of the power of the principles that undergird our society and bind us as a people.

The horror and anger that result from this despicable act are understandable. Giving in to them is beneath us. We know that those who commit monstrous acts are not monsters, but rather angry, misguided, fearful people who must be separated from society for our protection and their own. But we will treat them as they didn't have the courage to treat us, lest they reduce us to their level. If we allow the lost or deranged to intimidate us, to stampede us into emulating their ugly, destructive, fear-inspired behavior, they become the victors and we the losers.

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