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Vengeance was mine, but not anymore. I am against the Death Penalty.

Magdaleno Leno Rose-Avila  |  Issue: August 2021
Magadaleno Leno Rose-Avila
Magdaleno Leno Rose-Avila

Growing up, I was taught that we must punish those who commit crimes and make them pay sometimes even with their lives.

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…

Vengeance was ours to have and yet we never got ours when a crime was committed by whites against us Latinos. Yet at the same time so called justice was swift and harsh when it came to the white community judging, charging and punishing a person of color.

I grew up on the streets where “if you hurt my people, we will hurt yours.” “Brown on brown justice.” Sometimes it could cause serious injury and or death. I was the victim and victimizer of too many violent actions by a gang or group. There is an adrenal high during these conflicts. And you think you just might have won something but in fact you have lost something or perhaps everything.

Helen Prejean and Leno Rose-Avila
Helen Prejean and Leno Rose-Avila

When I was about 21 years of age, I decided that I would not fight anymore Latinos. My fellow Latinos were not the ones calling me racist names, cheating me of my salary, or spraying pesticides on me.

Later, when I joined the United Farmworkers Union, I learned from Cesar Chávez, Dolores Huerta and Filipinos like Pete Velasco that nonviolence should be my way of life. And this included not just protecting others but also the environment and standing up against the Death Penalty.

In the process I learned of the racism and economics of the judicial system and how it was stacked in particular against Black people, and also picking up other people of color and the very poor whites. History tells us that we can trace the Death Penalty from slavery to the13th amendment, to lynching to Jim Crow and suppression and destruction of communities of color. Not to mention innocent individuals who were executed. Also, over 170 death row inmates that were later found innocent. Many of them my personal friends.

Magdaleno Leno Rose-Avila at the Fast & Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Magdaleno Leno Rose-Avila at the Fast & Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Prosecutors have built their reputations on the deaths of men and women claiming that they would bring closure to the victim’s families. There is no closure even if you could torture and kill the suspected person a hundred times. The loss and pain are buried deep and resurface often unless you can come to peace with your life and perhaps forgiving the perpetrator.

Magadaleno and his nephew.
Magdaleno and his nephew.

While many victims’ survivors want the Death Penalty there is a growing chorus of families of victims who call for the end of the Death Penalty including the families of Martin Luther King and of the Kennedys

We are a smart country and we should understand that there is better way to protect society than to kill some of our vulnerable citizens. Think about this there are no rich people on death row.

There is a reason to keep some locked up, some in mental hospitals for treatment but there is no need to have a penalty such as death.

If a government cannot manage its potholes, it surely should not decide on who lives and dies.

Every year there is a fast and vigil from June 29 to July 2 prior to the Fourth of July weekend at the U.S. Supreme Court calling for an end to the Death Penalty. This year I was there again to raise my voice and prayers on behalf of this human rights issue.

If I am someday killed, I would hope that no one would be executed in my name.

At the same time, I don’t know what my reaction would be if someone super close to me would be killed. I don’t know what would happen to what little sanity I have left. I pray that society would protect me from myself. That my community would hold me close, never letting go until I could handle the pain and the loss. I am afraid of the emotions and violence within. I need society to protect us all.

Since I became nonviolent, I learned that love and forgiveness are some strong medicines we all need to take more than once. And I learned that there is no room for vengeance.

You can stop hate and vengeance if you use love as your road to redemption.

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