Paris Williams

Paris Williams is an archaeologist. She taught at community colleges and volunteered in public radio in California’s Bay Area.
The money that is saved by abolishing the death penalty should be used to provide services to surviving families. There are practical things that families need that are actually helpful. Why does revenge trump everything else?

My father and I were very, very close. Our family was a tight group, and we always saw a lot of each other. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and was really a fun, playful guy. He was also a very generous and compassionate man. He worked for Amtrak, and as an employee was able to take home leftover food that the trains disposed of at the end of each day. He basically fed the whole neighborhood, which I think for some was a very important source of food.

I still don’t know why my father was killed. His body was discovered in the trunk of a car in a wrecking yard. The owner of the yard said that as he walked passed this car, the trunk just popped open. There he found my father’s body. He wasn’t wearing any shoes—just his Amtrak uniform and socks—which implies that he was killed at home. So that’s where the police went. His wife (not my mother) was implicated in his death, although she was never prosecuted. The person ultimately convicted of murdering him was a man whom my father viewed as a trusted friend.

Even after my father’s murder it never occurred to me that someone needed to die. It just never crossed my mind. I recall some people saying that his killers deserved death because their betrayal was so profound. Their words deeply troubled me, burdening me with a notion of vengeance that led me to question whether I should feel this way or not. This burden remained with me until my father came to me in a dream and told me that he was okay and that nobody needed to die.

Revenge is not an adequate response to social needs as they stand. It is socially irresponsible to say, “I want revenge” and have that trump all other considerations. We’re wasting millions of dollars on the death penalty. Think of the people we might save if we spent that money investing in education, rehabilitation, and prevention, rather than spending those millions trying to kill someone. It just doesn’t make any common sense. That is a poor management of resources at the very least and morally unjustified at the most. The money that is saved by abolishing the death penalty should be used to provide services to surviving families. There are practical things that families need that are actually helpful. Why does revenge trump everything else?