Saturday, May 11, 2013

Trying to Understand My Own Views on the Death Penalty

Hi all....

Most of the people who know me know that I have always been vehemently opposed to capital punishment.  I suppose that for many years, I might have been ambivalent.  What pushed me to being in the anti camp was a case that happened in Texas some years back.  In that case, the convicted felon was a woman.  She had managed to convince the entire world that she had turned herself around.

This led to a media outcry, and so on.  Texas ultimately executed her.  Still, it was at that time that I realized how sexist the whole thing was.  Most of the people on death row are men.  We never hear their stories of redemption.

I have heard all of the arguments.  The primary one is that of cost.  We should not talk of human life in financial terms.  If we spoke in such terms, we must point out that it costs millions to prosecute a capital case.  It only costs thousands to imprison someone for life.

When we add the question of race, it becomes even more untenable.  Logic suggests that the racial demography on death row should somewhat approximate the racial demography of the country.  It does not.  This is a significant Constitutional problem.

The governor of the State of Illinois some years back put a moratorium on executions in that state.  He realized that of the 25 people sent to death row, 13 had been exonerated.  One of the exonerations came as a result of a university research project.  He realized the flaws in the system and reacted accordingly.

At the same time, I look at what happened in Boston last month, and the horror of what is developing in Cleveland even as we speak.  I am not sure that there is punishment adequate to the crimes that were committed.  Part of me struggles with that question.  Whatever my feelings about the death penalty might be, I will not shed any tears over the perpetrators of these horrific crimes.

Where do I stand now?  That is a good question.  I ask myself that question every time something happens on such a scale.  Let me start by saying this: if you support the death penalty, you must demand the relentless pursuit of absolute accuracy in determining the perpetrator of a crime.  You must demand that all evidence be constantly subject to the latest in evidentiary technology, even after a conviction, even after an execution.  Whatever one's feelings about capital punishment are, for the State to execute an innocent person in the name of justice is unforgivable and unacceptable.

Beyond that, this blog entry has helped me clarify my views.  I am still against it.  I will remain a supporter of the Innocence Project, a group that seeks to exonerate those whose convictions are flawed.  The fact that it is sexist and racist resonates strongly.  The fact that so many of the accused work with a public defender, who has limited time, limited funds, and a plateful of other cases is problematic.  To deprive a person of life without the best defence possible is again unforgivable and unacceptable.

My tipping point towards remaining in the anti camp is a strange one perhaps.  It is a matter of national dignity more than one of justice.  On the one hand, the European Union will not admit to its membership any nation with the death penalty.  It will not extradite without a promise that there will be no execution.  Canada and the nations of the EU have real justice systems.  On the other hand, we have Iran, China, North Korea, and other nations of that ilk.  "Justice" is whatever the ruling class wants on any given day.  As an American, I would rather know that my country can keep faith with the countries of Europe and with Canada.  I do not wish my country to be counted in the same breath with those other nations.

The issue remaining to be addressed, and one to which I have no answer is this: of the nations with which I like my country to be counted, the United States has both the highest proportion of its population behind bars and the highest rate of recidivism.  Something is wrong with that picture.

Have a good evening all.


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