Allright, so a while back, I saw an item in the news, and suppressed an urge to post about it. That item was the execution of the thousandth death row inmate since the moratiorium on capital punishment was lifted in 1976. I was pretty sure that I was going to post about it eventually, but wasn't entirely certain that my arguement was fully formed and didn't wish to set an artificial deadline for myself based on a construct devoid of any real signifigance. That it is ultimately a high-profile case that brought this out of me is not lost, but for my part, the reason I'm writing this now is because of what I read at Girl on the Blog
To take a life is to operate outside of one's rights as a human being, and infringing upon the rights of another. I hope against hope that we can all agree on that unequivocally.
That having been said, we constantly and often for good reason operate outside our rights, and when the rights of one conflict with the rights of another, a decision has to be made.
Simply put, there needs to be a reason.
When a hostage is held at gunpoint, there is a reason.
And in the case of the death penalty as it stands, there isn't one. At all.
There are, depending on how you looking at it, two or three potential reasons for the death penalty. They are deterrence, punishment, and vengeance. The latter two can be lumped together, and in the case of mainstream politics, vengeance is never on the table, though is sometimes referred to dressed in punishment's borrowed robes.
I submit that punishment is only an issue if you are dealing with someone who may be reintroduced to society. Thus, it is irrelevent to anyone for whom the death penalty is a consideration.
Let's look at vengeance. I am not at this point in time absolutely clear how I feel about it personally. There is a strong part of me that feels that it is a legitimate motive, and another that suspects that part of me to be somewhat antiquated, or even primative. That debate is an age old one which I doubt will be put to rest in our lifetimes. For the purposes of this writing I shall assume it to be a worthy concern. The short way to deal with it in this context is that it doesn't apply. Vengeance is personal. The legal system is not. But let me take it further.
The death penalty is not an effective vessel for revenge. It takes years in a process that is about the perpatrator rather than the victim, and ends flatly. This is not to be taken as a criticism. It is necessary for the state to act in a humane way; vengeance is not its concern. The question I'm raising in this matter is, "what is its concern in the instance of the death penalty?"
Logically, the only thing remaining is deterrance. In fact, every politician in favor of the death penalty does so using this arguement. The problem with it is that the numbers have utterly failed to show it. There is of course the chicken and egg debate that supporters raise to attempt to set aside the fact that the crime rate is higher in states with capital punishment, but I would say that the concept, at least in its current incarnation, is not supported by logic either. Deterrance is, to paraphrase Doctor Strangelove, the art of producing in the mind of the criminal the fear to kill. For the very reasons mentioned above, the death penalty does not evoke fear unless one is already facing it. Thus, it does not deter.
Moreover, it has been proven that the death penalty has claimed innocent life. Once an execution has taken place, there can be no expunging of sentances. At least in the case of life in prison there is some oppertunity to right a wrong. I agree with John Adams in that I would sooner see a thousand guilty men live than one innocent man die.
All told, there are some who will say that some people simply deserve to die. Those who have read Tolkein have an easy response to this in the words of Gandalf:
Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.
However, I've gotten to the point where I don't end my arguements with that, because upon further reflection there's yet another layer.
All told, the subset of murderers who would without a doubt be better off dead are the ones who can get away with it.
Am I saying that violent vigilantism makes more sense than the death penalty? In a word, yes. It fufills the Punishment and Vengeance reasons in ways that are fairly obvious. The thought that someone could come out of nowhere and put lead between your eyes is terrifying. Not that I'm saying that I know for a fact that it would be a deterrent (obviously there are no numbers to support my claim), I'm just saying it makes more sense.
The other thing is a matter of trust. I don't trust the judicial system to decide who lives and who dies. I don't know that I trust anyone, but I'm sure as shit that I don't trust the courts. If I saw a murder, I'd certainly trust myself more.
Of course, it isn't feasible. There's the whole matter of who watches the watchers, so I'm obviously not advocating vigilantism per se. But I certainly think it makes more sense than capital punishment.
I'm eager to hear what you people have to say about this.