Archive for September, 2011

The death penalty makes for an ugly society

[This was originally posted on January 27, 2006.  With the events of yesterday and recent days, I have decided to repost it.]

I used to favor the death penalty. I used to say it really was a deterrent because anyone who has received the death penalty cannot be released by some misguided parole board and commit more murder and mayhem.

I changed my mind.

I now oppose the death penalty in all cases. The reasons include many that I never hear discussed. That we should not “play God” is not one of my reasons. We play God all the time — including when we keep alive people who would otherwise die as well as when we kill people who would otherwise live. If we were to stop “playing God”, we would have to go back to the woods and live like deer and squirrels.

My reasons for opposing the death penalty include:

  1. People have been exonerated after 20 years or more in prison. While it is an intolerable injustice and tragedy that they were wrongly imprisoned, and that much of their life was in fact taken from them, at least they lived to know that their innocence had finally been recognized, and to return with the record cleared to whatever family and friends may still be around.
  2. Seeking the death penalty makes us an ugly society. It is really disgusting when a big case hits the news and everybody wants to know, will the prosecution seek the death penalty, and will they “WIN”. It is portrayed like a game that degrades us all. Sometimes the families of victims speak out about how they want the accused to die. I have compassion for these people but I wish they had somehow been taught a different way of thinking. As far as I can tell, even after an execution, the relatives never feel the ‘better’ that they expected.
    Sometimes, part of the game is, will the defense seek an “insanity” plea, and how that would be a “loss” for the prosecution. I disgaree. I say that when any accused wants to plead “insanity”, that plea should be accepted immediately and no trial need be held. The result is that the accused is removed from society until society decides they are able to return without posing a further threat. What else could we want?? It’s a life sentence if necessary. Call it “guilty but insane” instead of “not guilty by reason of insanity” if that makes anyone feel better.
  3. The death penalty costs us a lot of money as well as other intangible things. Appeals go on forever. Prosecutors spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money — your money — trying to “WIN” a capital punishment sentence. Tookie Williams sat on death row for about 25 years, and when the legal process finally ran its course, it could not cope with the fact that he had become a voice for non-violence and against gang warfare in the inner city communities. We killed a person who had found a way to do good even while in a maximum security prison.
  4. Death is too good a punishment for the crimes it is mandated for. OK, so I can’t eliminate the idea of punishment entirely from this equation. As a just society, we must show that people who commit crimes will be removed from society, possibly forever. I think it is better for someone who is guilty of a heinous crime to spend the rest of their life in jail thinking about it than to have the luxury of a quick death and a shot at martyrdom. There is no scientific evidence that the possibility of the death penalty vs. life imprisonment has the slightest deterrent effect on someone before they commit a crime. What does have an effect is a sense that justice is swift and truly just. The money we waste on the death penalty process could be put to much better use improving the quality of law enforcement and trial.

We disparage the ancient Romans for making a contest and spectator sport of killing in the Colosseum.  We have come a long way since then, but not far enough.  It is time we remove the ugliness of public executions from our own society.

Caution: Don’t Drink the Tea

So I’m overdue to catch up on what has happened in the past month.  Not much good, it seems.

  1. The US averted default, but otherwise the outcome was totally negative.  The process gave the world the idea, quite understandably, that the US government is dysfunctional and cannot be counted on to come in out of the rain. It kicked the can a few months down the road by putting us between a bigger rock and  a bigger hard place.
  2. There was an earthquake centered not far from Washing, DC, and a hurricane that knocked a fair amount of the of the northeast upside the head.  Michelle Bachmann says that was God’s message that Washington’s policies are wrong. Apparently, she has a direct phone line to God.  More on “theocrat” below.
  3. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas who succeeded George W. Bush, jumped into the presidential race and almost immediately eclipsed Bachmann because he is even more radical and extreme.  One pundit characterized him as “George W. Bush without the charm.”  His previous book unequivocally puts him in the religious right camp, which is not all that far from the Nazis.  Think I’m exaggerating?  When someone paints gays and “moral relativists” as a danger to society, they are arming themselves with the ammunition to, uh, eliminate the “danger”, whatever it takes. Perry is also a theocrat, as in someone who espouses a theocracy – a religious state where the rules of one religion are the rules of society, whether or not literal adherence to that religion in name is required.  For him, it is like the First Amendment does not exist.  Or maybe it’s a Communist plot.  Don’t take my word for it, read his own book.
  4. The media continues to follow the above two tea preachers* as if they were credible candidates for any public office, let alone President of the United States.  People like this, who assert, among other bizarre beliefs, that evolution is wrong, deserve no more coverage than the current Communist Party candidate (if there is one) or the Flat-Earthers, with whom they are near cousins.

America today may have its challenges, but it remains the number one power on this earth.  We did not arrive at this place by clinging to medieval beliefs and mythologies. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights set forth an ideal that was way ahead of its time. It included that there shall be no law respecting an establishment of religion.  George Washington wrote at the time, “this is not a Christian country.”    Even though we fell short of that ideal in the early days of our nation, we have been evolving towards it, step by step, ever since.  It is still a shining star – the “city on a hill” – toward which we strive.

The Tea Party would have us reject and discard that ideal and the progress of at least the past century, if not more.  It is time we dump the Tea Partyers into the harbor along with their rancid tea.

* – “The Tea Preacher looked so baffled when I asked him why he dressed
With twenty pounds of headlines stapled to his chest.”
— “Memphis Blues Again” – Bob Dylan