September 11, 2001, was a terrible day, no doubt, for the people of the Washington, DC, metro area. While New York took a much worse hit than we did, it was still terrifying to live here that day and in the weeks and months to follow. We suspiciously eyed every airliner that passed overhead to make sure it was following a proper flight path. We kept a careful eye on our surroundings. Soon after, as the anthrax attacks started happening (some of which, again, in our region) we started checking every envelope for suspicious white powder.
But the terror of living in this area in September-December 2001 paled in comparison to the terror of living in this area in October 2002 under the siege of the ‘beltway sniper attacks‘.
It’s hard to explain why two guys with a rifle would be more frightening than radical Islamists with hijacked airliners. It doesn’t seem logical. I think it’s because, on some level, you expect to be at increased risk in an aircraft. You expect to be at increased risk in a high-profile federal building like the Pentagon, White House, or Capitol. You don’t, however, expect to die of a gunshot wound while you’re mowing your lawn, pumping gas, or leaving a restaurant. These are inherently ‘safe’ activities, but in October 2002 John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo made them horribly frightening.
They killed ten and injured three in their irrational rampage through the greater DC metro area, striking children, adults, men, women, blacks, whites, and more who were just going about their regular daily tasks. It’s one thing to eye-ball an airliner as it passes by to make sure it’s where it should be; it’s quite another to scan your surroundings while you pump your gas to try and spot a sniper (and evade him) before he kills you. If you didn’t live around here in October 2002, you probably have no idea what it’s like . . . nor should you want to.
Muhammad, convicted in one of his many murders, is scheduled to be put to death tomorrow. (Malvo, because of his youth, was spared the death penalty and is serving a life sentence.) I am not happy that he will die, assuming Governor Tim Kaine (D-VA) doesn’t commute his sentence. I don’t generally support the death penalty. Given the terror that Muhummad spread across this entire region—and inflicted on me personally—it’s tempting to grant my endorsement, but ultimately capital punishment in modern times is little more than an act of vengeance. The most valid moral purpose of a punishment is to protect society from harm, and society is no more protected by Muhammad’s death than it would be from his life imprisonment.
Regardless, the Commonwealth of Virginia has levied a valid punishment through a proper legal process. Barring any last minute drama, it will be carried out at 9pm tomorrow. May God forgive John Allen Muhammad for his sins and have mercy on him.