Sorry, nope. Not buying into it. I hate the death penalty, and I hate our go-to, knee-jerk impulse to impose it.
You know why “divide and conquer” works? Because we’re all so damned anxious to be divided. What could be more natural—more human—than for two oppressed peoples, both competing over the same table scraps, to develop mutual animosity and for that animosity to become, over generations, toxic second nature? What could be more natural—more human—then for two peoples, each raised in a hierarchical world and constantly conscious of being looked down on, of being thought inferior, to feel a need, a craving akin to addiction, for a sense of being superior to someone, anyone? And that need’s being unconscious makes it even more powerful
We all have that need; none escapes it.
What could be more natural—more human—than to thrash each other soundly, to symbolically murder each other, for being human? What could be more natural—more human—than for us to be so easily manipulated into going at one another, cutting one another down, destroying one another, and leaving the smug manipulators to pick up the spoils? We make it so easy to be turned against one another. Why be cooperative?
Did Nury Martinez, Kevin de León, Gil Cedillo, and Ron Herrera screw up? Royally. Did they transgress? Abominably. But take a minute. Breathe. Count to ten. What would we be thinking today if someone hadn’t released that recording, hadn’t put us at each other’s throats? (Yet again.) Who among us would escape a good thrashing if our thoughts were running on a chyron across our foreheads?
So what’s appropriate here? Because to my way of thinking, forcing Martinez et al to resign is just too damned easy, both for them and for us. You know what would be harder? Make them come to work every day, make them face the people they’ve transgressed against every day, day after day, until their terms in office—what would become their sentences—are up. Making them face, every day, and talk to, every day, the people they’ve hurt. Make them learn, every day, from the people they’ve hurt. Make them deal with and think, every day, about who they—and who we—are. Make them live, every day, with the humiliation they brought on themselves. Make them make amends. Every day. Were it possible, appropriate punishment would prevent their resigning, would make them serve their sentences breaking the rocks of their prejudices.
Letting them resign would be easier for us too; what would be harder? Forgiving them.
None of these people—not Nury Martinez, not Kevin de León, not Gil Cedillo, not Ron Herrera (who’s already resigned)—is a bad person. But they screwed up. And got caught.
What were they doing, really, these now-infamous four? In one sense, they were doing their jobs, doing what they promised and were elected to do: giving voice to those whose voices have too long been muted. Yes, they were concerned about their personal power, but also they were concerned about using their power to do good for their people. Their real fault is in having too narrow a view of who their people are. Their people should be all us. And for that reason, it is appropriate for Ms. Martinez to resign the City Council presidency: because that position is symbolic of working for the good of all, not of just one bloc, and working for one bloc was what she was doing.
Sure this is upsetting. Yes, the things Ms. Martinez said about Mr. Bonin’s son were beyond the pale, hurtful, unacceptable. By all means censure her for saying terrible things about a child. But saying terrible things about a child is not the same as saying terrible things to a child. It doesn’t excuse it, but when she said those things, she thought she was in a private conversation; the punishment should fit the crime. She did not hurt a child; whoever released that tape hurt a child.
Maybe, in part, we’re so upset about this because, having been forced to look such ugliness in the face, having to see who those four really are, we are forced to see who we really are. Is there any of us who hasn’t said, or allowed to be said without protesting, or thought, the same kind of thing we’re all so outraged about? When we heard it in our own heads or from our redneck uncles were we equally outraged? It’s a terrible feeling to realize we’ve been made fools of. But, at least for me, what’s also upsetting about all this is having to face the ugliness that humans—all humans—are sometimes capable of.
Rather than engage in this age-old pitchfork parade, I propose we consider doing the hard work of understanding, of offering the tolerance we demand of others. Tolerance flows both ways. We do not have to forget, but, as hard as it will be, forgiveness will be good for us. And it will thwart the efforts of those who benefit from dividing us.