Updated: Monday, July 17, 2018; 3:53 EDT: When I wrote this piece, I was not aware that, according to court records, Chris Young sexually assaulted a woman in front of her three children at gun point the morning before the murder.
Gunpoint. Three children. I have no words. That act is evil; the man who did it is evil, and had I known, I would have included that in the piece.
I’m not going to lie. Learning that shook me. In ministry, I come across a number of very bad people seeking redemption and the ones that are hardest for me to see as capable of that are those who have committed sexual assault.
I did not advocate for Young to be forgiven. That is not for me to do. I do not know if he is a changed man—only God knows, and he will soon have to answer to the divine when he is put to death later today. I honestly do not feel as strongly about the “Young’s life matters” part of my argument. His chance for redemption? I’m done arguing for that. Nevertheless, I still do not trust a fundamentally unjust and white supremacist system to kill in the name of justice. I never have and I never will.
On Tuesday evening, the state of Texas will execute Chris Young for murder by means of lethal injection. I don’t think they should, but it is not because he is innocent.
In 2004, while attempting to rob a San Antonio, TX, convenience store, Young shot and killed Hasmukh Patel, the store’s owner. Cameras in the store recorded Young committing the crime, and in 2006, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to die at the hands of the state.
I wish this were a movie. I want to say that I have discovered evidence that proves Young’s innocence. If I had, I would run to my car, drive to Austin and demand to see Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas. Young would be exonerated and he would spend the rest of his days happily caring for his daughters, Crishelle and Na’Quita…but this is not that kind of story. Young does not claim that he is wrongly accused. He admits that he is guilty of murder, and though I find his actions to be reprehensible, I maintain that Chris Young should not be executed. My reasons are systemic and moral.
Your likelihood of being executed in the United States is largely dependent on how much money you have (as O.J. showed us, for better or worse), your race (black folks make up 13 percent of the U.S. population; yet, they make up 35 percent of those executed) and where the crime takes place. Texas leads the nation in modern executions, having killed 552 inmates since 1982. For context, the state with the second highest number of executions since 1982 is Virginia with 113.
This means that if you are found guilty of murder in Texas, your chances of being put to death are higher than any other state in the union. That kind of arbitrary regional variance is fundamentally unjust and demands we take a closer look at how we do things. Even Mitesh Patel, the son of Hasmukh who was forced to watch the tape of Young murder his father and whose testimony was instrumental in convicting him of murder, thinks the way our death penalty system works is unjust and joined the petition asking Gov. Abbott to grant Young clemency. This was impactful for me. If even the son of the man who was murdered is petitioning for Young’s life, then certainly we should listen. But even with all this, the most compelling reason is not systemic. It is moral.
An important question we must all ask ourselves is this: What kind of country do we want to live in? Commenting on why he joined the petition, Patel cited the fact that he does not want Young’s children to grow up without a father. “Chris killed my father,” Patel said in a Now This original documentary. “If the state [kills Young] they are no different than Chris.”
Petal’s logic makes sense. When we allow the state to kill in our name, we are morally culpable in the loss of life. Yes, Young should not have committed the crime, but what good does killing him do other than further the cycle of violence? We’re not only punishing the man who committed a crime, we also sentencing his daughters to a life without the guidance of their father.
And yes, some families passionately want to see the person who took the life of their beloved put to death by the state, but we do not cite vengeance as a reason to punish people in this country. Besides, I’m still waiting for my 40 acres and a mule to atone for the violence this country has inflicted on me and black Americans since its inception. I passionately want this, but I don’t think it’s coming. Just because someone has been wronged and passionately wants recompense does not mean he will or should get it. We stopped dismembering people for stealing; we should stop killing human beings for murder—and make no mistake, Chris Young, like all people on death row, is a human being. And since he is a person, his life matters.
I have worked in ministry for over 10 years, and one thing I can say definitively is that people change. We gain weight, we lose weight; we can become worse people and, conversely, we can grow to be better human beings. In fact, a fundamental tenet in Christianity is the idea that we all have the ability to change. That no one, not even the worst among us, is beyond the reach of a creator who permits consequences for behavior but is endless in grace and mercy.
I find it tragically ironic that many Christians in this country chose to ignore this fundamental idea in the pursuit of vengeance, something that is supposed to be reserved for God. What’s worse, many are perfectly comfortable with the logical contradiction of saying lives in the womb matter but lives on death row do not, thereby showing their belief that Young is hopeless and his life of no value because of his actions 14 years ago.
I’ve talked to people who’ve worked on Young’s petition, and by all accounts, he is a changed man. His actions and his work to try to stop the cycle of violence in which he participated show us that the person who committed those crimes is not the person who is in prison today. But even if he hadn’t changed, he should be allowed the opportunity to do so—he should be given the chance to become a better person. To kill him is to give up on his potential; to say, in essence, that he is beyond redemption goes against the Bible so many say they hold dear.
I’m not arguing for Chris Young to be free. He should spend the rest of his life in prison. Yet, I cannot say with ethical consistency that Black Lives Matter if I do not say that Chris Young’s life matters as well.