Thursday, December 01, 2005


Death Penalty Debate Continues

With the 1,000th execution since the reinstatement of the death penalty in this country nearing, the debate on the death penalty has heated. Kenneth Lee Boyd's execution, scheduled for early on Friday, Dec. 2, will probably have happened by the time you read this. Boyd killed his wife and father-in-law. Tookie Williams is scheduled to be executed in California on December 13, Williams is convicted of killing 3 people during a motel robbery in 1979 plus a clerk at a convenient store. Williams has claimed innocence of all killings.

Being an absolute, irreversible punishment, capital punishment is certainly a serious subject. Williams case has attracted much attention with celebrities championing his case, and he has even been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Such absurbities aside many of the arguments surrounding capital punishment simply don't hold up.

Over at Facing South, we find our old "friend" SKB making this argument,
But, it is not society's duty to exact revenge, which is all the death penalty is. It certainly isn't a deterrent.
SKB confuses punishment with revenge. Using his logic, society has no right to mete out punishment for any crimes. While there may be an element of revenge in the death penalty or in any sentence handed out by the justice system, revenge is not the aim, the aim is punishment.

For many years now, people like to talk about recidivism, deterrents and rehabilitation. Effective deterrents and low recidivism would be very nice but success in these areas has been minimal. Should the consequences for committing a crime be measured by its deterrent effects or how well it reduces recidivism? What if we discover some sort of treatment or medical procedure that would render on incapable of committing a violent crime, as in Clockwork Orange? Should we let murderers and rapists free to walk the streets? If a person kills others in cold blood but becomes "rehabilitated", should they be given a lesser punishment?

I am not a strong supporter of the death penalty but it does not bother me that a person like Tookie Williams or this guy are put to death for their crimes. If I felt sure they were guilty, I would pull the lever. What does bother me about the death penalty is the possibility of an innocent person being put to death. This alone may be enough to abolish the death penalty. Over zealous prosecutors may be more interested in a conviction than the truth. There are many cases of innocent people sentenced to death.

Lastly, many of those arguing against the death penalty are the same people that support abortion. In some places abortion is legal virtually up until the moment of birth. Full term is 40 weeks, but with modern medicine "even babies born as early as 23 weeks now have a good chance of survival." What is it to kill an innocent baby that has a "good chance of survival?" An adult rightfully convicted of capital murder made a conscious choice to wrongfully and purposefully take the life of another but the baby is fully innocent. Abolishment of capital punishment is a favorite position of the left who lambaste the Pope on abortion, women's rights, etc. But they quickly move to him when he speaks against capital punishment.

When the anti-execution crowd shows more interest in protecting the lives of the most innocent among us, I'll start showing more interest in whether death is a fair fate of the most heinous and guilty criminals. In the meantime, I'll try to find a cure for that schizophrenic malady called liberalism.

In some places abortion is legal virtually up until the moment of birth.

States restrict abortions late in pregnancy, permitting them only in certain rare cases. Only four one-hundredths of one percent of legal abortions are performed during the third trimester. Most late-term procedures involve wanted pregnancies that go tragically wrong when the woman's life or health is endangered or the fetus develops abnormalities incompatible with life. These women deserve protection, even though their situations are rare.
Strange state of affairs that cultural warriors on both sides will use the Papacy to justify only half of their arguments.

I guess ideological consistency just isn't in the cards for some folks.

Regarding the Death Penalty, and I think we've already discussed this, I personally don't care if it is a deterrent or not. Some people's crimes warrant execution. Sometimes there is no amount of rehabilitation or good works that can be accomplished to make up for the heinous nature of a crime.

But we must be very careful, my father was a prosecutor - a very good one - but to do what he did requires a faith in the 'theory' of a crime rather than actually finding the truth. That does make me a little uncomfortable with states that hand out the death penalty like candy. (I've also always wondered why defense attorney's get the bad rap when the prosecutors screw up a case, but that's another conversation entirely.)

That doesn't mean I think we should abolish the death penalty altogether, but it does mean we should take a long and hard look at every death penalty case, and maybe it isn't a bad thing that this sort of debate goes on in this society.

In the case of Williams, this is a cause celebre for many reasons. First of all, the kids books Williams wrote and his part in orchestrating the truce between the Bloods and the Crips cannot be overstated. Until you've had to carry a 7 iron into a room because it increased your chances of walking out alive, you cannot know how important that truce actually was for this country's youth.

Does that mean he should be nominated for the peace prize? Maybe, maybe not. But anyone can be nominated for the Nobel. If all gang violence had ended with that truce, and the Bloods and the Crips had suddenly become burgeoning charitable civic organizations policing and building their communities, then maybe we could realistically talk about the Nobel Peace Prize.

Death penalty opponents are using this case to gain exposure.

Leftists are using this case to wag fingers and get back at the 'man.'

Rightwingers are using this case to say 'see what would happen if they were in charge?'

Liberal and Conservative America are having conversations like this one, very quietly, with the understanding that it will probably end badly for all of us.

Other alliances exist on the basis of class and race, and that's part of the pluralistic society we have to accept. You always tend to think the guy who looks like you is getting a bum rap while the guys who don't look like you are getting away with it.

The real error here came from either Gray Davis or Schwartzenegger. Maybe even before that. They could have looked at this before it really got this big - back when it was just a few activists - and said "wow, this could really cause some problems, both legally (the actual case does have some parts that smell) and cultrually (in the tinderbox that is Los Angeles). Maybe we ought to just make that stuff life in prison, so he can continue writing and doing good works and never, ever get out of prison."

Instead, it is a flashpoint in the culture war. Now Schwartzenegger has to decide whether to acede to demands of activism or give them a martyr. Neither result is beneficial to America, and now the stakes are much, much higher.
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