On July 21st, 2011, Mark Ströman was executed in the State of Texas: Having gone on a rampage after the 9/11 attacks, he had killed two people he thought were Arabs, and injuring a third young man from Bangladesh. His surviving victim, M. Bhuyian backed his plea for clemency, stating: "His execution will not eradicate hate crimes from this world. We will just simply lose another human life." If executing Mark Ströman was not the solution, then, what was it?
The unfolding of the last few years have proved that M. Bhuyian to be right:
In 2015, there has been 80 000 hate crimes throughout the world, in progression of 15% compared to 5 years ago. In the USA, the FBI has reported that hate crimes against Muslims have increased by 67% in 2015, a record high since 9/11. Experts say these crimes are fueled by extremism and Donald Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric. "We are anxious, uncertain, even terrified. We wake up every morning with a sense of disbelief—can this really be happening? We go to bed every night filled with dread—how bad is this going to get?" questioned recently Haroon Moghul, a senior Fellow at the Center on Global Policy.
Many may find stunning the idea that Mark Ströman himself may have been part of the solution, as much as repented prisoners can be inspiring figures for other individuals who, whether by ignorance, by vulnerability, or other reasons, may take the wrong path in life.
As a campaigner who has been in contact over nearly a decade with criminals in prison as much as with law enforcement agents and charities involved in the criminal justice system, I have to admit that some of the people I have found the most inspiring are those who we hardly ever hear about: The prisoners themselves, and in particular, those who, having spent decades on death row, have learnt to consider themselves with honesty and clarity, accepting their wrong, making amend for what they did, progressively becoming eager to to help others.
Mark Ströman was one of these prisoners. His voice got barely heard at the time of his execution. Everything went too quickly. No one realised that by executing Mark Ströman, a precious opportunity was lost to gain a precious advocate against hate crimes. As his friend Linny stated:
"There was not a day going by that went without Mark thinking about what he had done. He had a genuine desire to make amends. He had quietly been helping people all around the world. People with illnesses, people with cancer, people like my 78 years old Mum (...). I had grown to respect him."
In the UK today and in other countries, revolutionary policies are put in place that use former offenders to inspire and transform the heart and the mind of other offenders (whether past, current, or potential), by offering much needed mentoring support. This is a reality on which we need to build awareness. These policies work and we need to promote them.
Hate crime will not stop because Mark Ströman has been executed. We need to leave our judgments behind and accept to open our minds to new solutions. Some of us are ready: From all over the world, letters of clemency arrived to the board of pardons and paroles just before Mark Ströman was executed.
On the day of his execution, he wrote:
"From Iran to Brazil and almost every other country in the world has responded with words of love and support. Every race of mankind, several types of faith and religious beliefs have entered into my zone of death…and the one message that all of these different people are saying is awesome and speaks of the power of this story…. Of Forgiveness, worldwide peace and how this story of death has some way changed the views of the reader…that’s powerful folks. This nightmare has turned into something of great power and beauty."
READ: I was a neo-Nazi. Then I fell in love with a black woman, by Claire Bates, BBC News, August 2017