On a Practical Opposition to the Death Penalty

Posted: September 28, 2011 in Uncategorized
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I shouldn’t have to do this, but in Texas, I feel that I must sadly do so anyway; I’m going to preface this by saying that I’m not a pacifist, nor am I categorically against the death penalty; some people on this world need to and deserve to die; I have no qualms in taking a human life in the defense of myself or those I care about. It is however, sufficient to mention only three entities in order to lay the foundation for the case I’m about to make here: the Houston PD Crime Lab, Cameron Todd Willingham, and Troy Anthony Davis.

I won’t take up space with an exhaustive account of their stories here, but in short, here we have a government agency that, either through sheer incompetence, or, I suspect, deliberate manipulation of evidence, compromised hundreds of DNA and blood samples in order to secure convictions. We have a man who was put to death, not for a crime that he didn’t commit, but for a crime that probably didn’t even happen, according to a review board of fire experts that was stepped on and effectively silenced by Gov. Perry, letting a certainly innocent man be executed so that he didn’t appear “soft on crime”. We have a man who was executed on the eyewitness accounts of 9 people, 7 of which so far, have recanted their testimony. To date, there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime.

Too many people, sadly enough, find comfortable the morally and intellectually lazy position of the law and order sadist; those who gleefully want to inflict the maximum of suffering on the accused not to mention the convicted and the condemned, regardless of the facts of the case, or factual or legal innocence, simply because it makes them feel good or morally superior. Such people have the same distressingly and repugnantly cavalier attitude to the deliberate destruction of human life as those upon whom they heap mountains of righteous scorn, most often proudly ignorant of the facts of any such given case.

Invariably deployed in each death penalty case by the law and order sadist are the typical appeals for some nebulous and poorly-defined conception of justice or some condescending plea of closure from those who have never lost a loved one to murder and don’t understand that to “kill them back” doesn’t bring back that loved one, nor does it do anything to soothe their loss. What is always ignored, of course, is what the family of the accused or convicted or condemned must feel when they all know for a fact that their loved one is to die for a crime that is not theirs to account for, or for a crime that never took place. The factual innocence of the condemned is of no consequence; their legal guilt is enough to slake the blood-thirst of the law and order sadist.

The fundamental question that the issue of capital punishment unavoidably throws at its partisans on either side, time and again, is whether it is morally acceptable to execute the innocent in order to preserve and validate the system. Should an innocent person die as a cost of doing such a ghoulish business? Ernest van den Haag (google the name and be prepared for revulsion), a legal scholar of William F. Buckley Jr’s National Review once mentioned that, even if an innocent person was executed, the relevant point had been made; that the state and the community was prepared to kill and that was just fine with him. Whether or not the “right” life had been snuffed out in the pursuit of vengeance made no difference; the demonstration alone was enough.

Despite the crimes I myself at times warmly imagine necessitating capital punishment, the way in which the multitudes of states in the Union carry out the death penalty, Texas in particular, is unacceptably broken and probably irreparable and irreformable. As breathtakingly cynical as I am, I still have my own moments of hopeful optimism and naiveté; hope springs eternal, even in someone like myself, who is too young to be as old as I am. I nonetheless would like to think that the execution of the innocent is not acceptable to anyone; a crime itself the hideousness of which is, at least to me, so obvious as to be nearly self-evident. I say, with out shame, or irony, or any reservation or purpose of evasion that, if we as a society, any part of us, are comfortable with and approving of, knowingly or not, executing the factually innocent in order to preserve a system of punishment that ostensibly executes only the legally and factually guilty, then it is necessary to admit that we are not merely executing the rightfully condemned; we are instead performing ritual human sacrifices so that blood-thirst be slaked, and reflexive outrage be soothed.

This is not a state of affairs that stands any human society in good stead, much less one that claims the mantle of leadership of the free world. We would do well by ourselves by at least placing this practice on hold, indefinitely if necessary, until we have a criminal justice system in place that can assure 100%, that everyone put on death row belongs there. We owe to ourselves nothing less than this.

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