Scheduled to Burn Tonight
Reflections on the Impending Execution of a Domestic Terrorist
As I write we are but a few hours away from the much publicized execution of John Allen Muhammad, the notorious Washington Beltway sniper, who shot and killed 10 innocent people that were simply going about their business. The random pattern by which Mr. Muhammad selected his victims created an atmosphere of stark terror around the nation’s capitol because everybody understood that anybody could be next. Anxious law enforcement agencies launched a massive dragnet, which was supported by the Fruit of Islam, the paramilitary arm of the Nation Of Islam, who joined the search because Muhammad had once been a member of the NOI and they wanted to make it clear that they abhorred his actions too. John Muhammad was eventually captured, tried and sentenced to death! Now the time has come when the hour of his execution is at hand.
His lawyers petitioned the US Supreme Court to halt the execution on the grounds that Mr. Muhammad suffers from mental illness, and therefore it is “cruel and unusual” punishment to put him to death. And such punishment is expressly forbidden in the Constitution. But the High court refused to hear his case. The experience of Mr. Muhammad with the US justice system is of special interests to me because, although I concede the arguments of death penalty opponents that the influence of race and class weighs against the poor and non-whites and results in members of these classes receiving death sentences at a far greater rate than whites, and wealthy people of all colors, and I am even willing to call a halt to all executions until those problems can be properly addressed: I continue to insist that there are crimes for which society has the right to put the perpetrator to death!
Thus I am no bleeding heart on the death penalty issue; yet I am opposed to it in this case because Mr. Muhammad is clearly “insane in the brain” as the rappers would put it. The man at one point during his murderous rampage called the cops and announced that he was God! And this is but one manifestation of his madness. Hence the difference between John Muhammad and say, Kevin McVey, the right wing fanatic who was executed for blowing up a government building in Oklahoma, is that McVey had an ideology and program which he boldly executed with military precision and Muhammad was acting randomly. The Oklahoma bombing was a cold calculated act which McVey owned up to without apology, and Muhammad’s shootings were the random acts of a madman for which he has yet to give a coherent explanation.
Although both engaged in domestic terrorism, McVey deserved the death penalty but Muhammad should be confined to a hospital for the criminally insane. If the insanity defense has any validity now is the time to apply it. However the one thing that McVey, Muhammad and Major Hassan, the Fort Hood gunman whose victims are being memorialized as I write, have in common, is that they are all damaged products of America’s wars in the Muslim world who were taught to kill without conscience by their government. And this is a fact that nobody in our government or media want to talk about.
* Playthell Benjamin
Harlem, New York
November 10, 2009