Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Finding a Positive Response

Today the MVFHR group is visiting the city of Hiroshima. They are visiting the memorial museum and meeting with victims of the atomic bomb and then holding a press conference and a public speaking event at the Civic Center.

Of the MVFHR speakers, the visit to Hiroshima has particular significance for Robert Meeropol. Here is the statement he is delivering at the press conference:

My name is Robert Meeropol now, but I was born Robert Rosenberg. My birth parents were executed in Sing-Sing prison in New York State on June 19th, 1953 when I was six years old. My last name was changed when Abel and Anne Meeropol adopted my older brother, Michael, and me after the executions. I believe my brother and I are unique in American history. We are the only people to have both their parents executed by the government. And I am also the only lawyer in the United States to have had both his parents executed.

I am a part of this delegation for several reasons. As a child who survived his parents’ execution I also have an unusual perspective to share with you. How does the death penalty impact the children of those executed?

I am here in Japan to explain that experience. I hope you will see that executing someone helps no one. It does not ease the pain of those who have had a family member murdered. Killing another human being will not undo that terrible act. Executing someone will only bring new pain and suffering to a new set of victims, the children and other family members of the person who is executed.

There is another reason why I have come to Japan. My parents were executed for supposedly stealing the secret of the Atomic Bomb. This was a false charge, so in a way my parents were victims of the Atomic Bomb. No people in the world have suffered more than the Japanese because of the Atomic Bomb. My family has also suffered because of that bomb, and I feel a special relationship with all who have suffered from it.

And here is an excerpt from the remarks that Robert Meeropol has been giving at the group's public presentations:

What is the most fundamental thing wrong with the death penalty?

I believe the death penalty is a human rights abuse, but my opposition to it is even more fundamental. Murder, or any other crime that a society judges sufficiently bad to merit the death penalty, is a negative. An execution is the cold-blooded ritualized killing of a helpless human being.

Each execution is a negative response to a negative event. This does not create anything positive. It only perpetuates more negatives by promoting a cycle of violence and be creating a new set of victims – the family members of those executed.

The best way to respond to a negative is to find a positive response to it. This is not always easy, but my personal experience teaches me that it is possible. Both of my parents were executed when I was s small child. I grew up having revenge fantasies. I wanted to kill the people responsible for killing my parents. But when I was 43 years old, I founded the Rosenberg Fund for Children (RFC). The RFC is a public foundation that raises money to provide for the educational and emotional needs of the children of targeted activists. In other words, we help children who are experiencing the kind of terror I experienced as a child. This has become my life’s work. It is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. I don’t care about revenge anymore, and the work I do benefits others. This is my positive response to the negative of my parents’ execution.

Similarly, every member of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights has endured a terrible negative. They’ve had a family member murdered, executed or disappeared. They have joined together to work against capital punishment, to make sure murderers are not executed. They promote understanding and a reduction of violence. They have all found a positive response to the negative of murder, and by doing so they are healing themselves and benefiting society by reducing violence.

I urge the people of Japan to find a positive response to murder in your society.

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