The Chapel Hill Herald
Setting an example after a tragedy
Stephen Dear: Guest columnist
March 16, 2008
In response to the senseless murder of Eve Carson, our community can offer an example for the nation. We have lost one of our brightest lights and now we as a community can make a decision about who we are and what we stand for. At this moment we can come together in our pain and say the cycle of violence ends here, in our hearts, in our homes, on our streets and in our courthouses. Out of our deep sadness and grief we as a community can show the nation that communities can unite to stop the cycle of violence, vengeance and destruction, and foster restorative justice. Let us call on District Attorney Jim Woodall not to seek the death penalty in this case. Two young African-American males from Durham, 17-year-old Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., and 21-year-old Demario James Atwater, have been charged with Eve Carson's murder. Lovette, as a juvenile, will not be eligible for the death penalty, but Atwater could be. Lovette has also been charged with the January murder of Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato in Durham. In recent years, the city councils of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham and Hillsborough, and the boards of commissioners of Orange, Durham and Chatham counties have all passed resolutions calling for a suspension of executions. The UNC Student Government Association, before Eve Carson was elected its president, passed a resolution calling for such a moratorium. More than 100 churches, businesses and groups in our community have passed similar resolutions. Thousands of people in our community are members of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, whose offices are located in downtown Carrboro, and thousands more locals have signed petitions to stop executions. Our community, town and gown, have deserved reputations for leaning against the death penalty. Although DAs have tried, no one has been sentenced to death in Orange County since 1970. Some have said Ms. Carson's killer or killers deserve death. But the death penalty will not bring healing; it will only brutalize us and keep us perpetuating the racial and class biases of Old South justice. Ironically, this academic year UNC is holding what may be the most extensive series of events examining the death penalty at any university in modern times. UNC's leaders have done a noble service to the community and to future generations of leaders by providing an array of opportunities to learn about and grapple with the death penalty, especially the historical roots of the racial and class bias and the wrongful convictions involved with it. The murder of Eve Carson took place just days after a lecture by "Dead Man Walking" author Sr. Helen Prejean when she told the university community how forgiveness shows great strength and that the administration of the death penalty reflects whose lives we value more in this society. Scholars at UNC, including law school dean Jack Boger, have authored a study of race and the death penalty in North Carolina, finding that a defendant in North Carolina is 3.5 times more likely to receive a death sentence if the murder victim is white, and even more likely if the defendant is non-white, as in the Carson case. Our community has been informed about the death penalty, its many failings, and the false promise of justice and healing it offers. There are other ways for us to deal with our pain and hurt. In 2006 the Amish families and community of Bart Township, Pa., set an example for the world in the aftermath of the killing of five girls at a one-room school there. As they grieved, they began the journey of forgiveness and healing together. Several of the victims' families who had buried their own daughters just the day before attended the killer's funeral and hugged his widow and other members of his family. As a community they dealt with their fully appropriate anger without turning to rage and collective vengeance. Seeking the death penalty in an attempt at exacting justice or balancing the scales of justice only creates another revolution in the cycle of violence. In turn it sends the message to would-be killers of the world that killing is acceptable. Instead, we can focus on healing and restoration for the Carson family, and our community. This tragedy has changed lives of people in large and small ways. We can chose for it to change us for the better as individuals and as a community. Instead of focusing on lethal retribution we can put addressing the needs of the victim's family first while attending to the hurt and needs of everyone involved, including the community and even offenders. Let us create new programs addressing crime prevention and gang violence and offer new programs at counseling and assistance for victims' survivors. When I attend the memorial service on Tuesday I will be praying for Ms. Carson and for comfort and healing for her family. I will also be praying that we set an example for the country that stands for life and love. That, after all, is what this remarkable human being was all about.
Stephen Dear lives in Carrboro and is executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, a national nonprofit organization located in Carrboro.