12.20.2006

Hot Topic of the Day: The Death Penalty

Wonderful news for Maryland: executions in the state have been suspended. I won't go into the decision, mostly because I have very little legal expertise and I am inspired by Stephanie Dray's opinion on the issue. However, if you want a quick legal rundown of the decision, head over to Crablaw.

Mrs. Dray takes the "make the death penalty safe and rare" position, certainly one of the most respectable ones to have in this debate. I agree with Dray on her point that there are some crimes which are so heinous, they should require the death penalty. She mentions John Allen Muhammad, the adult suspect in the DC sniper killings, as an example of such a crime and criminal. Indeed, Mr. Muhammad is a terrible man. He deserves no mercy. Some would say he deserves nothing more than the same death he and Malvo inflicted on their victims. These people may be right, and they are mostly driven by righteous anger.

The problem is, our justice system doesn't run on righteous anger. And though Mr. Muhammad does not deserve our mercy, we would reduce ourselves to his level were we not to give it.

I do not believe, as Dray assumes that many death penalty opponents do, that killing is wrong in every case or instance. Revenge killing by the State IS wrong in every instance, and that is what the death penalty boils down to.

There is no proof that the death penalty is an effective deterrent for violent crime. In fact, States with the death penalty have higher murder rates than states without it. It is solely reserved for those who murder in ways that revolt us.

In Maryland (and many other states I would assume) the death penalty has been proven to be applied by juries and prosecutors in a racist manner. Black males (particularly those who murder whites), to this day, are still more likely to be sentenced to death than whites in Maryland.

To argue that the death penalty is some sort of "criminal extermination service" is disturbing to me. If it isn't a deterrent, and it isn't revenge (can I assume state sanctioned revenge killing is wrong?), then it must be some sort societal fix. Killing serial killers as if these men are congenitally diseased when they are simply products of severe abuse in their childhood is insanity. Any argument that assumes there is some sort of genetic code or trigger for criminality is bunk anyway, but death penalty supporters continue to use these arguments to this day.

There is also the desire by death penalty proponents to separate society into "the criminals" and "the rest of us". This is a terrible and false dichotomy. Human beings are all capable of barbarity, of anger, of lust. We are all capable of losing control and we are all able to see the error of our ways and make positive changes in our lives. I believe the number one priority of the justice system must first be protection of the innocent. After that however, its next function must not be revenge, but instead rehabilitation.

I am a progressive, and I trust the government to do many things. I would trust them with my health care. I trust them with my defense, with my education (state schools, k-College).
I suppose that I trust the state to tax me equitably. I guess I trust them to not take corporate money in exchange for votes, but not really.

I certainly don't trust the state when it comes to going to war. In fact, if you want the best reason not to support the death penalty, based purely on the fact that it requires the state to carry it out?



As Governor, George W. Bush signed off on 152 executions. Now I ask you, can we really trust the State to kill people "correctly"?

13 comments:

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