Rabbi Alexandra Wright
29 November 2019
There is a tragic and painful irony in the deaths of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, both stabbed last Friday by Usman Khan who had been released from jail on licence in 2018, half-way through a 16-year sentence for terrorism offences. The two victims, one a coordinator, the other a volunteer, both in their twenties, were both involved in a prisoner rehabilitation programme at Cambridge University called ‘Learning Together.’
We utterly condemn the attack that brought two young lives to an end and in which others were injured. Why the attacker bit the very hand that was feeding him an opportunity to enter and learn about a world that was greater than himself, we may never understand or know.
It would be natural to think that the only way of preventing the recurrence of such vicious attacks is to prevent rehabilitation opportunities for men and women who have been in prison and released. After all, we might think to ourselves, why should criminals have the same academic or vocational opportunities as those who have not been inside the criminal justice system? Why put innocent people at such a great risk?
It is difficult to hold one’s nerve at times like these. Young people – the same ages as ourselves, our children, our friends, our brothers or sisters, our grandchildren – at work, bringing together students from university and prisons to learn in a shared environment, imbuing hope in those who want to see a better society and in those who have been at the bottom of the heap in prison.
But as Jack Merritt’s father implied in an article on Monday, his son’s passion for fairness, his devotion to the programme he coordinated, must not be extinguished by our apprehension and fears, nor must his death be weaponised in this climate of febrile, ill-tempered pre-election campaigning.
At a time when he and his family and the family of Saskia Jones, another extraordinarily dedicated individual, are surely grieving and suffering from their losses, Dave Merritt appeals to all of us in an extraordinarily visionary and generous piece, ‘Borrow his intelligence, share his drive, feel his passion, burn with his anger, and extinguish hatred with his kindness. Never give up his fight.’
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