Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
As it is currently on display, the American character is not inclined toward nuance or uncertainty. In the public sphere, there is little room for "Well, that's complicated." This is limiting when answering questions about justice; especially the hard ones.
For the most heinous crimes, justice is elusive, at best. Victims' rights groups have an emotional case to make and often do so, muddying the question of justice with the appeal of vengeance. But if the pain caused by murder is immeasurable, the loss permanent, what good does vengeance do? What is a just punishment for someone guilty of causing immeasurable harm?
This is the sort of complexity that does not sit well with the American palate. Which is why the United States is one of the last two industrialized nations
to use capital punishment.
The death penalty is a great pretense of knowing what to do in the face of the unknowable. If a person commits a grievous crime that defies empathy, we can paper over that lack of understanding with a crime of our own.
The most common capital offense is murder. Part of what makes murder so reprehensible (aside from the obvious and basic assault on the foundations of society) is that no person, in any circumstance (short of obvious, self-defense-related exceptions), is ever fit to decide what other person should live or die. The rejection of this ability gives rise to passionate debates over abortion and Terri Schiavo
, with all sides repelled by what they see as the assumption of super-human decision-making. Who lives and dies and when is for fate or a divine power or chance -- depending on one's belief -- but it is not for Joe the Guy Down the Street. If Joe tries to make that ultimate decision, he must be stopped and punished.
However, if the offense is assuming the mantle of taker of life, to put Joe to death for his crime is also to condone his crime, for do we not take on the same impossible mantle? The offense is murder, a decision cast over who shall live and who shall die. Our outrage and emotion cannot be reason to take on that same folly. If such a decision is made, than it undercuts even the supposed deterrence inherent in strong punishment. If a society punishes with murder it is announcing, in effect, "There are some circumstances where it is permissible to murder."
In today's society of "political correctness," some people have decided that capital punishment is unethical and wrong -- both morally and for our society. I want to remind everyone of the purpose of the Death Penalty -- a punishment befitting the crime. It was never thought or designed to deter another individual from committing murder; it was designed to be the punishment
for the highest of all offenses -- murdering another human being.
If we say that as humans we are not worthy to hand down a capital sentence, then what makes us worthy to determine any punishment? What makes one crime deserving of more punishment than another? Should we say that any crime deserves the maximum or the minimum sentence? No, we as a society and a jury weigh a variety of factors: the nature of the crime, the reason (if any), the degree, the circumstances, the accused's prior record, the accused's remorse and so on.
To say that capital punishment seeks vengeance is ridiculous; the victim is dead and nothing can bring them back. Not every murder conviction receives the death penalty and some have been commuted due to a change in state law -- Charles Mason was convicted of murdering several people, including the actress Sharon Tate, in one of the more gruesome crime scenes imaginable and yet because the state of California banned the death penalty
for a few years, he is allowed to languish in jail. What justice has been served by that?
Unfortunately, there are many people who think they know best how to handle a situation or that they would handle it differently should it happen to them. Until you walk in those shoes and know what it feels like to have a loved one ripped from your life by an individual who has no conscience, you cannot possibly know what it is to suffer and seek retribution. Capital punishment will not bring back the victim, but it does make sure that particular criminal can never inflict their pain and suffering on another human being. It is a punishment dealt and delivered to the most heinous of murderers, befitting their crime, and serving justice.
Justifying the death penalty as punishment is a step toward barbarism. Humane punishments contain, confine, and restrict people. If we open the door to corporal punishment, why not throw it open? For lesser offenses why do we not cane people? Should we bring back the stocks? There have been instances in this century of local authorities in Pakistan using rape
as a form of punishment. Is that how we ought to punish certain offenders?
Charles Manson is languishing in jail. And he is unable to ever inflict his pain and suffering on another human being. The only difference is that we have not inflicted our pain and suffering on him. We have not used our own grief to justify murdering Charles Manson. That elevates us above Charles Manson, where we belong.
You point out that I cannot know the grief of a murder victim's family. Fortunately for me, this is true. But I have known grief and I find the idea that grief can be assuaged or dealt with by watching another human being die troubling. Anger and retribution are not good ways to fold loss into your life and remember the deceased. Further, for very good reasons it does not fall to the victims to decide a criminal's fate. Because their loss is so intense and emotional
, they should have little voice in sentencing. Their loss is unknowable but if a murder victim had been unloved and unmourned, the crime would be no less awful.
America's founding documents are built upon the belief that people are fallible and governments, being collections of people, are likewise fallible. We must strive to balance and check this fallibility. We agree that murder is deplorable. However, I am not willing to sanction our inherently fallible government to try to exercise some sort of discretionary murder, to decide when murder might be okay. Decisions of life and death should not be given to any person or group of persons.
For all our moral righteousness we have been caught one too many times on the very end of humanitarian advance. Institutional slavery clung on in the United States as it was eradicated in other industrialized nations. Universal suffrage did not flourish on our here until it had taken root in other, distant lands. Now, capital punishment lingers. We would be well served to admit that just as the rights to freedom and suffrage should be given to everyone, the power to kill should be reserved for no one.
Okay, let's back off with the name calling -- I am not backwards or uncouth because I support capital punishment and I do not have to justify the death penalty; it is the law in 38 states and in the federal penitentiary system. The problem with your argument is you're trying to skew the definitions -- murder, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, is "the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought." Note the use of "unlawfully" and "with malice aforethought"; it is illegal, premeditated, and desirous to cause pain. When a jury and a judge hand down the death sentence to a convicted murderer, it is a legal punishment for the crime committed. I said punishment -- you are trying to sway opinion by inferring that murder and capital punishment are the same. In the eyes of our judicial system, they are not and never will be.
Now let's talk a minute about the fallibility in men; to say that committing a premeditated murder is the fallibility of man is like saying "oops" or that 9/11 was really no big deal. I mean, come on, how can you possibly compare capital or first-degree murder to fallibility in man? Any human being who intentionally and illegally kills another human being is the barbarian, not the jury or the judge or the review board or the appellate judge
or the governor or possibly even the Supreme Court, who all have to approve the handing down and the carrying out of a death sentence. That is why for every 700 murders in the United States, only one execution comes to fruition.
Not every first-degree murder is punishable by death; there are mitigating circumstances which must be and are weighed during the penalty phase of a capital murder trial. According to federal law, there are other crimes which can be punishable by death, but in the last 50 years, only first-degree murder has received this sentence. It is because as human beings, we truly do not wish to see another person die; however there are some murderers, whose killings go beyond all logical, reasonable, and moral ideals. To willfully seek out another person; cause them injury, suffering, and pain; and then murder them, is not something that most people can fathom, let alone consider a fallacy.
And yet this same person, who so brutally and willfully murdered another individual, should be allowed to live out their life in prison? That is not vindication, it is not retribution, and it is not justice. Every day there are literally thousands and thousands of Americans who have no idea where their next meal will come from and yet every convicted murderer with a life sentence knows exactly the time of every meal. There are over 1.8 million websites on Charles Manson
; so rather than being punished, he seems to have flourished somehow. One last thought to consider, the classic sculpture of Justice is generally depicted as a woman holding the scales in her left hand and a sword in right. What do you think the sword symbolizes?