Tuesday, May 12, 2015

203.3 - The death penalty must go

The death penalty must go

The "penalty phase" of the trial of Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is now going on. For all I know, it will be over before you see this. But it still is the occasion for a comment.

Because the issue now, obviously, is not one of his guilt or innocence. In a way, it never was: Tsarnaev never denied being involved. The question is one of his life or death: Will he be sentenced to life without parole or will he be sentenced to death?

To me, there is not even a choice to be made: The death penalty is an archaic relic of a brutal past, a past that I would hope we had outgrown but seemingly have not, a relic marked with bigotry, legal sloppiness, and murders of the innocent: Over the past 40 years, 153 people have been released from death row with proof of their innocence, a figure equal to more than 1/10 of those who have been executed in that same time - which can only leave us to wonder how many of those were likewise innocent.

Yes, but we'll be told, you said it yourself: His guilt is not at issue. He is not innocent of the crime. I know that. I also know that killing him - and let's not kid ourselves with euphemisms, what we're talking about planned, premeditated, murder - murdering him will not bring back a single life, it will not undo a single wound, it will not repair a single mangled limb, it will not restore a single shattered life.

I am unalterably opposed to the death penalty - even with the excuse of "the worst of the worst."

I'm not the only one opposed: while a majority of Americans still support the death penalty, that support is now at a 40-year low.

I'm not even the only one opposed in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: The LA Times recently editorialized that
the real reason to spare Tsarnaev's life is that no crime warrants the death penalty. The jury should reject capital punishment and sentence Tsarnaev to life in prison without possibility of parole because that is how a mature society acts. Not out of vengeance. Not out of passion.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Those words echo my own from decades past. In 1988, Michael Dukakis was running for president as a Democrat and he had the failing of being uncomfortable expressing emotion in public, making him seem to many as a cold fish or a mere technocrat, a fine clerk but a lousy leader. During a televised debate, he was asked about his opposition to the death penalty and would it change his mind - how would he feel - if someone raped and killed his wife.

Dukakis rather uncomfortably said he expected he would feel the same things any other husband would and then calmly said it would not change his mind about the death penalty.

I still remember my own reaction to the question. I thought that if someone raped and killed my wife, I would want to rip out his throat with my bare hands. I would want to crush his skull. I would want to rip off one of his legs and beat him with it and smear his own blood all over what remained of his face. My rage would know no bounds.

But, I also thought, that's why we have laws! That's why we have courts! That's why we have a legal system! So we don't act out of blind rage or desire for blood vengeance. So we act with thought, with careful consideration of what we are doing and why and what are the consequences of what we do.

It surely would make some feel somehow better, how we "got him back," if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is murdered by the state, but blood vengeance is not supposed to be the basis for our actions, not as a society any more than as individuals.

We must put an end to the death penalty.

Sources cited in links:

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