December 5, 2021, the New York Times published a story “He Never Touched the Murder Weapon. Alabama Sentenced Him to Die.” It is a heartbreaking story with an introductory video pointing to a longer documentation which is available elsewhere on the Internet. The short video documents last minute phone calls made in an effort to stop a planned excecution, which is scheduled in 35 minutes. It involves the sister of the murder victim agreeing to help preventing an execution of a person she thinks is innocent in the murder of her brother.
Nathaniel Woods had been convicted 15 years earlier in connection with the shooting deaths of three police officers. The circumstances of his arrest for a misdemeanor involve his being in a drug house at the time of the police officer’s operation to arrest him. Yet, the story is about that Nathaniel Woods “never killed anyone”. To quote the article: “Alabama — one of 26 states where an accomplice can be sentenced to death, according to the American Civil Liberties Union — argued that Mr. Woods had intentionally lured the officers to their deaths. It did not have to prove that he actually killed anyone in seeking his conviction for capital murder.“
The article is very detailed and complex, shedding light on a story of a person’s troubled upbringing and controversial life. You will read accounts of all sorts which will allow to take, emotionally, one or the other side of arguments whether, and why, Nathaniel Woods became victim of injustice. The New York Times finds a balanced approach detailing the personae of the real cop killer, the person who actually shot and killed three police officers in cold blood, even admitting this in interviews, exculpating Nathaniel Woods as a drug dealer who happened to be subject of police action executing an arrest warrant against him, but not being armed, not engaging in violence, just fleeing in horror as he witnessed the other drug dealer opening fire and going on a killing spree. Everything in this story can create arguments in favor or in opposition to his being sentenced to death.
To me, the story also demonstrates the enormous role of different interpretations of what one would consider “capital murder”. Not under any circumstances German criminal law would provide that Nathaniel Woods behavior would establish him perpetrating an act of capital murder. And German constitutional law does not allow capital punishment.
So, what makes me using this article for a piece in my blog under a headline “Indifference”?
To quote the article itself, and Bryan Stevenson therein: “The tragedy is that people like Nathaniel Woods become victims of our indifference to injustice,” said Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization based in Alabama. He added, “Being in the wrong place at the wrong time doesn’t make you someone who is evil.”
This sentence struck a cord. I often talk or write about the need to passionately promote values. Stressing compassion, and making an argument for standing up for justice, for truth, for rights, for democracy. Here is the other side to it, expressed in one sentence: The passion for upholding a value is confronted with the indifference to the opposite of that value. The very same thing happened when the 45th President of the United States, just shortly after his inauguration, sat for a TV interview in January 2017, stating into the cameras: “Torture works”. He didn’t say he condoned torture. But everyone felt (either encouraged or being disgusted and horrified) an unspoken belief that he did. People rarely noticed, perhaps because he just started to go on an ever escalating news cycle, using this modus operandi on countless occasions. But to me, it established the ultimate red line to cross.
The erosion of values does not happen because of the absence of those who promote them. The landslide is caused by a combination of those who actively undermine them, combined with those many who act in indifference. It is not about the silence of the sheep. It is about the selfishness which is inherent in indifference. – “Why bother? ” “Who cares?““Is it really that bad?” –
Yes, it is.
By the way: After the inauguration of the new German Federal Government two days ago, the German news reported Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary, expressing his fear about a new German policy coming up, including being “pro-immigration”, and “gender-friendly”. Of course, he did not say that with a note of welcome, but as a statement of criticism. He also stated this in the State-controlled Hungarian media, read it here in the Hungarian Times. Of course we can have controversial discussions about immigration policies. But “gender-friendliness” as a topic of criticism inside the European Union?
Another red line. For me. It is about indifference which is allowing to get people away with demolition of values.