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The Big Death Penalty Discussion: Does a Killer Deserve to Die?

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The Big Death Penalty Discussion: Does a Killer Deserve to Die?

By The Late Mitchell Warren

Heartbreaking songs about Georgia played in the back of our minds, their lyrics prognosticating the death of Troy Davis, as we read the inevitable news that came forth on Wednesday night, September 21, 2011. No peace we find, for the devil went down to Georgia looking for a soul to steal, and the sheriff had bloodstains on his hand.

An unprecedented legal decision took place that Wednesday, as a man that many people believe to be innocent was put to death by lethal injection. Much has already been written regarding the startling lack of evidence, compromised (and withdrawn) testimonies, and highly suspect logic that convicted this man—a man that will be forever remembered as either a murderer in denial or an innocent man who wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time. An unfortunate legacy, and all the more tragic considering that his legacy was converted to ours. He was the new poster boy for injustice; “an innocent man dies”—certainly not the obituary Troy Davis had hoped for.

Davis denied the murder to his dying breath, staring into the eyes of the family of Officer Mark MacPhail, assuring them, “I did not personally kill your son, father, brother…all I can ask is that you look deeper into this case so you really can finally see the truth.” Before expiring he even told his Roman prison guards, “May God have mercy on your souls; may God bless your souls.”

Much has and will continue to be written about the Troy Davis case, the most shocking death penalty news of recent times, and an indubitable turning point for the U.S. justice system, state law and race relations. The ramifications will be huge, whether they will be felt in social reform, rioting (as London and various countries in the Middle East have seen), or yet another divisive element that polarizes the Red and Blue United States of America.

The Death Penalty Debate Ignites Over a Travesty

This is a case that, minority opinion aside, seems to unite most liberals and conservatives in eliciting protest, outrage and heartache. Liberals use the case as a universal argument against the death penalty, while conservatives cite it as an exception to a generally moral rule: an eye for an eye. The ambiguity of this case is what actually unites the public in a safe decry against injustice.

Mark Osler of CNN (an entity often accused of having a conservative bias) stated, that George Washington and the founding fathers of America lived out “the constitutional virtue of mercy.” He adds, “He pardoned those rebels who were sentenced to hang for treason. The Troy Davis case shows us a truth: We have wandered too far from our own best virtues.”

Subversify Magazine joins in the public mourning and outcry against this decision. By the United States’ own system of rules (conviction and sentencing only in the face of empirical evidence without a reasonable doubt) Troy Davis was wrongfully executed and this sets the bar very low, with the innate possibility of many future travesties to come. A state that willfully and repeatedly breaks former legal precedents with violent intimidation and solely by an arbitrary “conscience” is a fascist state, by textbook definition.

However, the true nature of death penalty arguments—does a guilty man deserve to die—is often shoved into the background in such politically heated debates. We hate the fact that in theory, an innocent man could put to death, and for this very reason, many people vehemently oppose the death penalty.

Too many things could go wrong in a flawed system, including but not limited to biased juries, tampered evidence, purely circumstantial evidence, reasonable doubt, coerced witnesses or confessions, and of course, the “judge who slaps the sheriff on the back with a smile”, anxious to forget the drudgery of yet another murder case and enjoy his supper.

The most pertinent question to consider, and the one we’re being force-fed to consider by the liberal media (admittedly one that is struggling to maintain a voice against a much louder conservative media), is: IF this were a perfect legal system and no innocent man was ever forced to die, would the death penalty be a fitting punishment? The only logical way to dissect this question in a death penalty essay format is to consider three aspects of life and death: moral philosophy, scientific analysis and a practical, real worldview.

The Biblical View of Capital Punishment

One of the main viewpoints of the liberal media is that the antiquated “eye for an eye” rule is motivated by religious tradition, and thus a healthy degree of superstition. The eye for an eye precedent comes from the passage in Exodus 21:23-25, which states that according to the Mosaic Law, God expects “a “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Scholars (including Professor Michael D. Coogan of Stonehill College) suggest that this law was originally instituted to “to prevent people from taking the law into their own hands and exacting disproportionate vengeance.” One of the most peculiar facts to arise out of a religious study of “eye for an eye” is that the early biblical system was intended as a social protection for Israelites and alien residents alike. (“You are to have one law for the alien and the citizen.”)

Much of the vitriol reserved for conservatives who still believe in the death penalty is actually directed towards Tea Party Republicans, who—in defiance of an age old concept of separating church and state—insist upon making Jesus part of political decision making. Presidential hopeful Governor Rick Perry recently stated, “America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.”

Understandably, a left leaning society of Americans take his words, and other such sentiments, as veiled threats to the ideals of Democracy. Scriptural interpretation is a highly personal and individual process and the idea of a single individual interpreting scripture for a multitude of followers has downright papal implications.

Beyond these peripherals, however, Christians who support the death penalty based on scriptural precedent have to come to terms with one commonly overlooked fact: Jesus Christ did not condone the death penalty. According to gospel, Jesus:

• Invalidated the Mosaic Law with his sacrifice, a system based on the inability of man to approach god in perfection; with his blood, Jesus destroyed all precedents of animal sacrifices, the ten commandments, and other Israelite traditions
• Jesus created a new commandment of love for one’s friends and enemies
• Jesus counseled his disciples for suggesting that the kingdom of God should be involved in the current political scene
• Jesus rebuked his disciples for attempting to physically defend him against the Romans and healed the man who arrested him
• Jesus allowed himself to be put to death
• Jesus prayed for those who killed him
• Jesus philosophy was, word for word, “turn the other cheek”, implying that if someone wants to slap you, it is better to allow him to do so than to respond in violence

While Paul, John and other disciples would later write of the angry Jesus figure returning for destruction, based on scriptural precedent alone, the founder of Christianity was inherently opposed to violence.

The View of Life and Death Before Biblical Law

From scriptural precedent, much of society’s rules and sentences were born. The biblical law actually represented a quite balanced viewpoint when compared to the desires of man, who often times warranted compensation far beyond what was just. Babylonian and Roman societies later instituted their own “eye for eye” policies, suggesting that “lex talionis” (Latine for eye for eye) was a more practical system than simply giving the angry victims whatever restitution they saw fit. The “Code of Hammurabi” in Babylonian Law stated that retribution could not be worse than the crime itself. Roman Law stated that monetary compensation was an adequate substitute for vengeance. Egyptian Law had its own B.C. era civil code, which was founded with principles of social equality and impartiality.

At last, I have peace.

History shows that as far back as mankind began developing higher abilities such as logic and compassion, he was attempting to rectify the “barbaric” nature of his being, and provide protection for the law-abiding and peaceable population. The terms “barbarian” and “barbaric” were often used as ad hominem attacks, suggesting that the person holding onto such an antiquated view was “uncivilized”; usually part of an inferior tribal society, of much less importance than a well-schooled Urbanite. The term “barbaric” actually originated in Greek civilization, and had a rather patriotic connotation;
“anyone who is not a Greek.”

Barbarians were also thought of as animalistic men, those who lacked human compassion and instead fought and devoured pray as unconscionably as wild beasts. Throughout history, mankind has evolved considerably in technology, and yet by in large, present day humankind struggles to contain the animalistic nature that roars within—the one characterized by bloodlust, family protection and territorial dominance.

The moral of this moral story is that “eye for an eye” (and subsequent philosophies) was always intended as a protection to the weak and frail in society; it was a law of balance presented in an effort to prevent total anarchy and safeguard human dignity. It was not the call-to-action “Impale him!” message that is often preached by right wing conservatives today.

Nevertheless, modern humanistic thinking fails to take into account one crucial element: how can humankind refrain from behaving in an animalistic or barbaric fashion if he is, by nature, animal? Scientifically speaking, the human being is an advanced mammal with similar instincts, flawed perceptions and selfish mindsets as the average baboon—the same baboon who has no problem killing his brother and bragging about it to his harem.

A Cold, Scientific View of Death

In terms of cold, hard science death (even in cases of murder) is nothing but the cessation of life—the “permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism.” Nobody knows where a person’s consciousness travels when he or she dies—all this is known is how death affects the living. And the effects are jarring; the very idea of death can send groups of people into a mass frenzy. The same social phenomenon of shared anxiety occurs whenever a friend dies, whenever an innocent man dies, and whenever the subject of inevitable death by natural causes is broached. We share anxiety regarding death because fear is in our nature. Naturally, the idea that a society of human beings has the right to control a person’s life or death doesn’t sit well—despite the fact that we all subconsciously acknowledge that human beings cannot survive without a functioning society.

We resent the same society that gives us life, taking advantage of our constitutional right to protest, even while conceding our constitutional inability to do anything in opposition to the most powerful branches of the government. An ex-military man (who requests anonymity) expresses the government’s perspective concisely: “If you choose to live in a society and take advantage of what it provides, you agree to live by that society’s laws. I am not in a position where I want to leave this society,” and thus he implies tacit support of the flawed system.

Scientifically speaking, we know that once death occurs, all pain ceases, and the murdered human being ceases to be—no doubt, his or her death continuing to influence and affect the lives of those who knew the story. The evolutionary argument is an even harsher one than the scientific: evolutionary theory suggests that death is an important part of “natural selection” and that only the most confused, foolish, and worthless members of society are in danger of dying, since they are “less adapted to their environment” and thus “reduce their contribution to the gene pool.”

“Meh. They all deserved it.”

In this case, an evolutionary view of society is in direct contrast to the humanistic view of society. What obligation do the champions of the gene pool, the Darwinian winners, have to protect and cherish the socially inept, unsuccessful and least profitable classes? Government-sponsored segregation and annihilation of the poor, as well as the mentally and physically disabled, and minority races, is a recurring drama taking place throughout multiple generations of history—from the Church’s intolerance of opposing religious views, to acts of genocide committed by infamous dictators, to even modern instances of the upper class eliminating sustenance desperately needed by the poor. Humankind continues to struggle with these Darwinian concepts, often referring back to his/her evolutionary instincts, rather than taking the moral high road of compassion.

Our strong sense of compassion suggests that we ought to render help and assistance to everyone, regardless of their social status, disability, and unprofitability. In the case of the death penalty, our social conscience (indeed, the true Christian conscience) suggests that we have an obligation to provide help and show mercy even to the people who do not deserve such. Namely, murderers, thieves, rapists, traitors, terrorists and every other sort of sociopathic being who would wish to do us harm.

The social implications of death are an important part of the discussion, because one common argument is that there are only victims in society. Criminals are created by the state, and hence the State continues to feed off the poor and underprivileged transforming these adorable babies into hardened criminals over time. Statistically speaking, death only appears to lead to more death, which is a contradiction to the myth that capital punishment is a deterrent.

A Statistical View of Murder and Death Penalty Facts

The conservative theory holds merit: if the criminal is executed there is a 0% chance that he will commit another crime. However, death penalty statistics tell another story. By the numbers, it’s clearly evident that states that do not have a death penalty actually have lower statistical averages for violent crimes.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation released reports that showed that the Southern U.S. states with the death penalty had the highest murder rate, 6.6 for 100,000, and was greater than the national average of 5.4. In fact, Southern states accounted for at least 80% of all executions. The 20 states that had the highest rate of murder, all had the death penalty law in effect. On the contrary, Northeastern states that do not support the death penalty have less than a 4.2% murder rate. Overall, according to the U.S. census, FBI reports, and other sources, the murder rate for death penalty states is 35% higher than that of non-death penalty states.

This Guy Will Kill You

The reasoning behind these statistics is simple to follow: a person who receives a sentence of life in prison is statistically unlikely to ever be released or escape so that he or she can commit more murders in the same manner. Therefore, the only reason to use capital punishment is with a view towards vengeance not determent.

It seems as if base human nature is again showing itself: when threatened, the barbarian resorts to even more vicious behavior in an attempt to overpower the oppressor. The State’s aggression seems to only provoke rebels to fight back; a phenomenon of human psychology apparent throughout the ages, from The Crusades to the Troubles, to the even the most recent examples of uprising citizens fighting against the government that wishes to silence them.

Amnesty International states that capital punishment is the “Ultimate denial of human rights…it is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being.” Mirroring the sentiment, Catholic Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, writes, “The death penalty diminishes all of us…[it] offers the tragic illusion that we can teach that killing is wrong by killing.”

Arguments for the Death Penalty: What About the Rights of the Victim?

Conservatives, true to nature, seek to protect the interests of their immediate family and not the entire social structure. Therefore, they are particularly concerned about the rights of the victim, and more importantly, the victim’s family. They put these rights ahead of arguments against the death penalty based solely on compassion. Remember that “eye for an eye” was originally instituted to prevent further miscarriages of justice, namely from angry victims who presumably sought harsh vengeance against the perpetrators.

Admittedly, the victims of a crime, by abiding the laws and standards of the state, are sacrificing a great deal. They are temporarily swallowing their resentment and their hate, and putting full trust in the State to deliver a just verdict—preferably one that is not greedy or harsh, but eye for an eye “fair.” The State now has the obligation to find a guilty party and to deliver this person up for the grieving family so that they can have peace. In essence, the victims have already made a great personal sacrifice—they have resisted the desire to take the law into their own hands and brutally retaliate.

This Guy Will Also Kill You

Allowing the victims to retaliate as they see fit would only lead to an epic war, the likes of which would continue to escalate with every passing year, and every new strategic attack. Hence, the intention that society has, to intervene and distribute justice in a balanced manner, cannot be faulted. It is the type of civilized behavior that defines the modern human being, one not intent on waging war for another one hundred years.

Nevertheless, the system is, by its own admission flawed, and yet seeks to provide perfect justice for angry victims and apologetic and or innocent accused parties. Science and history both teach us that this is a model that is destined to fail. If the State fails to take action and provide victims exactly what they want (which is usually murder for murder) then by all logic, the murderer’s victims will seek ways to take the law into their own hands and render a much more menacing punishment than the State could ever devise. Whether the victim’s punishment merits the crime is anyone’s guess; the victim may inflict cruelties upon an innocent person or maliciously attack someone that had no malicious intent to begin with. (i.e. what if a person was killed in self defense? How could you explain that to an angry family member who is convinced it was murder?)

Some conservatives, usually in the field of law enforcement, go well beyond the discussion of vengeance and take a societal position. They state that they have an obligation to protect their society from evildoers. Steven D. Stewart, Prosecuting Attorney of Clark County, Indiana, states, “I believe life is sacred. It cheapens the life of an innocent murder victim to say that society has no right to keep the murderer from ever killing again. In my view, society has not only the right, but the duty to act in self defense to protect the innocent.”

In one statement, Stewart describes not only the emotional element of murder, but also the evolutionary response. Does not the living organism have a great desire to sustain its own life? Would not capital punishment be an animalistic but still rational response as regards the “natural selection” theory? If the human organism’s intent (whether as an individual or as a society) is to protect its own interests, why would it exercise compassion and risk exposing weakness—which could theoretically lead to its death or gradual decrease in life quality? Are conservatives who support the death penalty acting out of hostility, fear or a selfish logic? For that matter…what motivates the anti death penalty movement?

The Real World View of Life, Death, Murder and Justice

Why do people do it? Why do people like Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille, do the unthinkable and fight for the rights of murderers—people who have denied their victims any such compassion? Their motivations are not easy to generalize; it seems as if the various factions are motivated by very different viewpoints. Some believe in the religious or spiritual aspect of life and death, and state that murdering murderers only continues the cycle of violence. Some accuse the State of creating murderers, turning the debate of capital punishment into a war of classes and races. It is an ongoing ideological war that may never be resolved, due to intrinsic differences in lifestyles, political philosophies, past experiences and widely difference outlooks.

What we, the evolutionists and scientists see in the midst of this political and moralistic chaos, is the very apparent dichotomy of the modern human philosopher—his Savage Nature and Civilized Humanity. Human beings are not capable of godlike objectivity. We are only capable of seeing the human perspective. Hence, we are only capable of selectively choosing what crimes to label, and what atrocities to publicize.

Human beings can only feel mercy for the lives of other human beings, and thus all moral sense begins and ends with this short-sightedness. How is it that we can so adamantly support a universal definition of morality and compassion when we hypocritically violate our own standards and precedents on a daily basis?

This Guy Won’t Kill Anymore

Many Americans who decry the death penalty on a regular basis, in the same breath would applaud the (supposed) death of accused terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Some liberals used Osama’s death as a credit to President Obama’s administration. Some rationalized that Osama’s death was necessary because of his great power, conniving mind and dangerous influence. Was his death at the hands of American military forces justified because of the overwhelming threat he posed? Or could it be that many Americans only perceive morality and justice in their language and within their own race of people? Was not Osama’s race and ethnicity a factor in painting him as the ultimate portrait of evil, one who had to die for the sins of 9-11? It’s easy to decry the death of one of our own, but much more difficult to sympathize with that of a foreign culture—especially an aggressive one. Nevertheless, if every person deserves to live regardless of his sins, would not our intent in dealing with terrorists be to help them understand the pain they are causing and to show them a “face of love”, as Sister Helen Prejean might put it?

What about the issue of self-defense? Are we justified in attacking someone who attacks us, perhaps killing that assaulter in self-defense? Was not the philosophy of Jesus and other religious prophets to suffer for the grace of God, and to allow other people to do us harm? Is self-defense that results in a fatal blow not a form of immediate capital punishment, one in which we become judge, jury and executioner?

We may find it difficult to fathom the idea of sympathizing with a murderous terrorist. How much more confusing it is to comprehend the idea of murdering other species of life. Indeed, the legal definition of murder is the “unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” Within this definition, there is no consideration of lesser beings besides the almighty human being.

Hence, the majority of human beings have no moral scruples in supporting the violent deaths of animals, weaker species, that apparently are undeserving of compassion. Is our compassion limited to other human beings, or perhaps to other species capable of communicating on our higher level of thinking and speaking? Many of us feel no compassion for a screeching chicken, a squealing pig or a bludgeoned cow. In fact, most Americans would prefer not to know how these lesser beings—even a more detestable creature than “the poor”—are treated in factory farming facilities. They deserve no compassion, for they are living product, with no rights to life.

This Guy Will Eat You

In Do Animals Feel Pain? by Peter Singer, he writes that the basest behavioral signs of pain are evident in animals, including “writhing, facial contortions, moaning, yelping or other forms of calling, attempts to avoid the source of the pain, appearance of fear.” Lynne U Sneddon (“Can Animals Feel Pain”) writes that many animals have “nociceptive nerves, which preferentially detect injury-causing stimuli,” and that “all vertebrates possess the primitive areas of the brain to process nociceptive information, namely the medulla, thalamus and limbic system.”

Despite strong scientific evidence suggesting that animals still feel fear, depression and pain, most human beings support factory farming. Their reasons for indulging in such selfish pleasure consist of even more disturbing rhetoric and propaganda, in fact, far more oblivious than anything the Tea Party has said to date. Common defenses include:

“Because I love the way steak tastes! {Drools}” (Genocidal reasoning)

“Because we’re all animals and I eat other animals.” (Evolutionary logic)

“Because animals don’t feel any pain.” (Complete denial)

“Because I just can’t stop eating meat.” (Self gratification is more important than the cause)

These rationales are something beyond hate; they represent complete close-mindedness and full denial as to the suffering and injustice of lower species subjugation. Indeed, to the meat-eater who refuses to consider the facts, the suffering of others is the “right” of the superior species.

The intent of this article is not to turn a debate about the death penalty into an animal right’s discussion. However, this argument is being used to illustrate that such “moral” concerns about the rights of other life forms are largely hypocritical or at best superficial.

We human beings are only capable of sympathizing with our own kind, and are for the most part oblivious to the sufferings of lower species. We are, for the most part, an organism that doesn’t care about life. We are a species hell-bent on destroying our own planet for short-term profit. Technology and convenience comes at the expense of life. We are at peace with this truth, provided the paranoia of human death doesn’t enter into the equation.

One doesn’t have to look into the animal kingdom for such glaring inconsistencies. Human beings seem to detest any life form lower on the food chain, even if that “species” is human-like. Civilized countries are considered “pro-choice”, meaning that abortion—the murder of a human-like being, something that will inevitably grow to be human—is legal, and not just in instances of rape or incest. Babies can be aborted for convenience. However, the argument is politically and humanely invalid because fetuses are not human. These life forms are something lower than a human being, a parasitical creature that belongs to the female carrier.

This Girl Will Abort You

Fetuses are also capable of feeling pain, says Mark Rosen, an anesthesiologist at the University of California at San Francisco. He told Discover Magazine that “fetuses develop pain receptors eight weeks into development and a thalamus,” the routing part of the brain, 20 weeks after conception. The Fetal Behavior Research Center states that the fetus is capable of learning and perceiving details well before birth. Despite scientific evidence suggesting that fetuses are capable of feeling pain, abortion is considered a technological advancement at the expense of subhuman life.

A Nation, a World of Poor Teachers

Socrates, a wise man who was sentenced to death without murdering anyone, once observed that “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” Socrates was a brilliant teacher and revolutionized human philosophy years after his execution. His methods of teaching, including the Socratic method, exposed the ignorance of so-called wise men. Indeed, though he was convicted of “corrupting the minds of the youth” he did what every teaches strives to do. He forced his students to think; to question their own core values.

If only the world were not short on good teachers! Perhaps in a world of great teachers, we would live a perfect system. Perhaps if we had someone with the ability of Socrates, Jesus, Buddha or Gandhi to guide us to a place of inner contentment, a state where we would no longer feel fear, resentment, anger or loss—we could fully comprehend the inhumanity of the death penalty, and all the violence we see around us.

A Good Teacher

Unfortunately, in as little as the government provides us in terms of justice, so it also falls short in providing us a path of enlightenment about the death penalty. Sadly, there are no great teachers among us who have the time, patience, skill or interest in helping murderers and victims alike make peace and stop the chain of violence.

The victims of criminals, and the politicians who claim to represent them, lash out at the evils of society, motivated by fear and confusion. Psychology teaches that post traumatic stress disorder is a sickness, and one capable of causing flashbacks, insomnia, hyper-vigilance and anger.

The effect of violence leaves more than resentment. This intense stress literally causes brain structure changes in the mygdala, hippocampus and frontal cortex. Trauma alters all physiological indicators of stress from a person’s heart rate to his/her blood pressure and an increase in salivary enzymes. Behaviorally, people suffering from trauma relive their memories constantly, and withdraw from family or usual social circles. Aggression and conflict appears in relationships, and many turn to drugs to alleviate the intense feelings. Furthermore, victims may feel unable to control impulsive behavior, perhaps even the obsessive thought of revenge.

A Spiritual Guide

True, victims should be taught and helped to understand that death accomplishes nothing. However, most victims cannot afford expensive therapy bills, nor does the idea of confiding in a hired counselor particularly appeal to them. Without this long and intensive healing process, an instinct of hate and revenge will be their only motivation. It is a natural reaction to the action of crime, and cannot be suppressed just because logic and compassion dictate that it should be.

Instead of helping both victim and criminal back to civilized society, we toss them away into their respective boxes. We throw criminals into electric chairs or into overcrowded jails, a fate comparable to death in terms of suffering. We tell bereaved victims that they cannot take the law into their own hands, and that God will be there for them in this time of grief. Meanwhile, we go on with our lives. We press on, despite the fact that the world stops moving once you have lost a loved one. We offer these people no genuine sympathy. We offer them no shoulder to cry on, as giving to charity is certainly not a profitable business.

We lecture them that vengeance is cruel and unjust, and that criminals are victims too. But we offer no guidance beyond dogma, cliches and ghostwritten greeting cards. Even more troubling is the intellectual condescension that we, the civilized people, give to these angry and suffering victims. If a person is “right wing” then he or she must be an idiot and talking to him or her is a waste of time. If a person is conservative, he or she must be a racist. If a person has the gall to believe in the death penalty, then he or she is certainly “no friend of mine.”

Well, Better Than Nothing

The far left’s response to human weakness is one of intellectual savagery, an intolerance of dissident opinions. It’s not moralistic in any sense—it is political peer pressure and motivated by laziness. The inherent laziness that we all have when it comes to teaching those less fortunate, those whose lives are now controlled by hate, frustration and despair. We are not the ones that can help them. They should help themselves so that they can improve the progressive society we are building. We have nothing to answer for, because they are at fault.

Perhaps if there were a Sister Helen for each and every one of us who has suffered loss, the world would not need a death penalty. Until that time comes, we shall continue to eat ourselves to bloody satiety, to savagely attack one another in action or in words, and to embrace the instinct of self-preservation that still govern us in day-to-day life.

Of course, in human society, the greatest teachers among us are usually the ones murdered. So make a difference at your own risk.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/22/us/final-pleas-and-vigils-in-troy-davis-execution.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2 http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/06/06/rick_perry_prayer

By Late Mitchell Warren

Author, "The End of the Magical Kingdom”, a Parody, Satire & Psychological Horror book series.

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21 thoughts on “The Big Death Penalty Discussion: Does a Killer Deserve to Die?”
  1. I oppose the death penalty because

    1. It is selectively anti-poor since those who can afford the lawyers can get away with anything. Who was the last plutocrat to get the noose?
    2. It is fundamentally useless as a deterrent. In fact, a criminal who knows he might face the death penalty would be more likely to silence his victims to prevent them from testifying against him.
    3. By the time it’s implemented, typically, decades have passed and nobody is the same person. Criminals like Caryl Chessman or Tookie Williams haue, by then,arguably rehabilitated themselves.
    4. Ultimately, it’s a political decision, not a judicial one,of whether the penalty is to be carried out.
    5. Certain minorities, like blacks or Muslims, are selectively more likely to be sentenced to death than majority community members.
    6. Innocents may be executed. A posthumous apology means nothing.
    7. Executions are used as ritual sacrifices. In condemning Afzal Guru to death for organising a terror attack on the Indian Parliament, the Supreme Court of India said that the ‘collective conscience of society’ demanded someone be punished even if there was no evidence.

  2. I suppose if you were to ask any except the suicidal, if they deserved to die; from the fly on the wall to the killer on the loose, the answer would be “no”. Obviously they don’t feel they deserve to die because they are putting forth every effort to be among the living. If we were to feel complete empathy with every single creature that felt it deserved to live, our lives would be filled with cockroaches and hornets, and counseling widowed snow geese.

    Yet, our system of moral and ethical law, that is perception of justice as passed on by our ancestors, is precisely based on empathy. A person accused of a crime and unable to hire an attorney, may dismiss his public defender in favor of other legal counsel by stating the court appointed defense representation felt no empathy with him/her as an individual.

    The feeling of empathy is what moves us to make judgments. Our measurement is thus: If i was placed in the same situation, with the same set of circumstances, would i have done the same thing? Our chances of an empathic relationship are greater if we have had a similar upbringing, religious persuasion, and racial/social class. The ideal jury, then, is a jury of our peers.

    It is the degree of sympathy that guides our feelings of compassion. Sympathy is a direct emotion apart and separate from an empathic relationship. You might sympathize with a situation without understanding it, moved only by distress and anguish. Sympathy is what moves us to shelter stray dogs, put out a bird feeder or become vegetarian. We sympathize with the non-human species without a basis of common experience, communications or knowledge of their thought patterns. We sympathize with their distress and anguish.

    Likewise, the issue of abortion is one that can only be perceived as sympathy for the distress and anguish when men make judgment calls on what women should do with their bodies. They can only imagine an empathic relationship without actually having a common basis of experience.

    Violence is more prone to exist in areas where there are large groups of people with diverse religious and racial/social class upbringings living close together within confined areas. For this reason, you will see a higher percentage of violent crime in the inner cities than you will in the suburbs or small communities.

    I don’t believe violence, in and of itself, is an active human personality trait, but the reaction to violence; perceived or real; is, as a natural survival mechanism. The problem becomes acute when we are raised in a society where violence is a norm. The acceptance is reflected in the way we raise our children, resolve disputes and the issuance of death sentences, through capital punishment and articles of war.

    Although violent tendencies are passed on from generation to generation, it’s a fallacy to believe we are a naturally war-like species. History has given us many examples of non-violent societies that were invaded and corrupted by violent organization. We see evidence of non-violent societies today in the Amish and in a number of Native American tribes. If you were raised in a non-violent environment, your chances of resorting to violence are much lower.

    Back to the question: Does a killer deserve to die? It all depends on how much empathy there is for the killer and how willing the society that judges him/her is to end the cycle of violent solutions.

  3. [Quote=Article]Too many things could go wrong in a flawed system, including but not limited to biased juries, tampered evidence, purely circumstantial evidence, reasonable doubt, coerced witnesses or confessions, and of course, the “judge who slaps the sheriff on the back with a smile”, anxious to forget the drudgery of yet another murder case and enjoy his supper.[/quote]

    This is why I’m opposed to courts – there’s just too much incentive on the part of the state to convict the defendant (innocent or not – makes no difference) for any notion of a “fair and impartial” weighing of facts to occur. I prefer good old fashioned vigilantism to anything that comes out of the so-called “justice” system…

  4. Excellent. I think you covered just about everything here without finger pointing. Much like Socrates would have.

    I myself have struggled most of my adult life back and forth with the Death penalty. Right now, I can see no good use for it. And yet still, is it any more humane to let people languish in dungeons until they die? Should we instead give them lobotomies and have them serve soup to us or something else useful?

    What is needed is useful answers.

    Also “The State” is not responsible for all badness. How can the state be responsible for generational pedophilia? Or the incomprehensible need to eat your neighbor?

    There is a lot here to think about, I may be back. Good Work.

  5. @ Mitchell,

    I’ll admit that vigilantism is not without its problems, but those problems can be (and historically have been) tempered with a few agreed-upon ground rules and traditions to prevent endless feuds from popping up – I’m all in favor of a form of “trial by combat” between the accused and accuser, a modern equivalent to the old Norse concept of “blood money” accepted en leu of vengeance by the family of the deceased or disputes being settled by an arbiter the conflicting parties all agree is impartial.

    It’s not perfect, but the alternative is to put your life and liberty in the hands of a power that is innately hostile to the accused…

  6. I know I’m going to get reamed for saying this but…

    The City of Refuge arrangement mentioned in Numbers wasn’t that bad of an idea.

  7. City of Refuge?

    Let’s assume there’s a perfect legal system in place, incorruptible and impartial. Now let’s assume we have a man who rapes and murders kids compulsively. There,s no doubt about his guilt. He’s incapable of stopping – but he only kills children. Otherwise, he’s creative, intelligent and unexceptionable, a danger to no adult.

    Should he be executed?

    Will killing him resurrect the dead kids? No? Maybe it will stop him killing again?

    Just how many kids can he rape and murder if he spends the rest of his life in a cell?

    There’s your answer.

  8. Well, assuming that we did live in Utopian society, I guess we could actually count on the fact that there would be no prison escapes, nor any suspended sentences or early releases as there are now.

    Morally speaking, from my gut, I’d suggest the old “banishment from Society” would be appropriate, but since he sinned against Earth, there is no way to banish him from the planet. There is also no way to guarantee he will stay on a continent, away from our civilized society.

    We have but two options: kill him or let him rot in jail. Which is less cruel, really?

    For Christ’s sakes, even the cows and chicken we eat suffer just a few years before dying.

    Are we not punishing these people in either scenario?

    And, as the point of my article, you give full rights to the criminal in this scenario, while giving nothing to the victim.

    I would think anyone who advocates violence with a purpose, including an overthrowing of a corrupt government, or a Mao Zedong approach to war, DOES believe in murder in some cases…though not the “death penalty” and all it implies.

    I’m pretty sure if the Tea Party started randomly killing innocent people (which isn’t too far from the truth) plenty of liberals would go for the jugular to defend themselves.

  9. We could always suspend these people in another galaxy like General Zod and let someone in the future deal with them.

    But really A blood price does make better sense. Or a lobotomy. I’m really thinking it might be time to bring back the lobotomy.

  10. As a Latin@, I will just reinforce that the possibility of being executed is much higher for ME (and other people of color) than for white people.

    On those grounds ALONE I have no qualms about being vehemently against the death penalty, which today is just a legal rationale for stringing up “niggers” and “spics” (and the occasional “white trash”).

    I have experience no cognitive dissonance whatsoever in opposing the death penalty because I know, from a statistical standpoint, I am more likely to get strung up because of my ethnicity. Period.

    I guess others here are conflicted, they have that luxury, me and my people? we don’t.

    Lastly, on the same night Troy Davis was lynched, a white supremacist was also executed. He was the first white to be executed for killing a black man since I don’t know when (possibly the first in Texas).

    Who was there PROTESTING AGAINST his execution? yeah, that’s right, people who are against the death penalty. So, I don’t completely buy into your point that those against the death penalty use that stance selectively. It’s a evolved, DIFFICULT position to take, especially within a society that lives, breaths, and worships retribution as a form of SOCIAL CONTROL.

    And, since this IS a magazine “international” in scope, let me just point out that we stand alone as the only advanced nation that still kills its (mostly brown and black) prisoners. This is not even a basis for discussion in other cultures/ societies because they’re operating from a higher level of collective moral reasoning.

    think about it: it’s expensive and horribly ineffective as a deterrent to crime, it’s immoral and, as practiced in the US, it’s racist and classist. WHY THEN IS IT THE LAW OF THE LAND? Part of the answer can be found in our racist roots because if it were mostly white people being executed, many under at best questionable circumstances, this wouldn’t be an issue — we wouldn’t have a death penalty.

    the death penalty is a direct manifestation of that Old Testament need for bloodlust. Period.

    Thanks for offering a good look into some the dynamics surrounding the issue, ‘manito.

  11. Eddie that seems like a valid argument but I’ve seen statistics suggesting that more white people are killed than black and Hispanic people. Why? Obviously, it’s much easier to do so since they can avoid the race card.


    On just the law of averages alone, this is a primarily white nation, so most victims of crimes are naturally going to be white. Does this incite racism in juries and judges? I’m sure it does.

    “the death penalty is a direct manifestation of that Old Testament need for bloodlust.

    As I said in the article, the eye for an eye was a defensive law, one that actually protected more people than it harmed (including non-Israelites).

    The Old Testament is often referred to by crazy Christians as justification for their oppression, but I don’t believe the book itself is about vengeance. I think it’s about the violence of human nature, and man’s primitive attempts to restore order.

    Our screwed up legal system aside, few people here have actually considered the merit of “death” itself. It’s the system that is evil, that is for sure. Is killing itself immoral in “perfect” circumstances?

    No one really knows. And it’s idealistic to think that in a perfect world there would never be any violence.

  12. Mitchell: Yeah, absolute numbers don’t make the point. White people are a majority, so their absoluter numbers will always be high. The point here is one of percentage. for example, though blacks are a small minority when compared to whites, they account for over FIFTY PERCENT of executions.

    as mentioned in the executive summary of the link you posted:

    “Two of the country’s foremost researchers on race and capital punishment, law professor David Baldus and statistician George Woodworth, along with colleagues in Philadelphia, have conducted a careful analysis of race and the death penalty in Philadelphia which reveals that the odds of receiving a death sentence are nearly four times (3.9) higher if the defendant is black. These results were obtained after ANALYZING and CONTROLLING FOR CASE DIFFERENCES SUCH AS THE SEVERITY OF THE CRIME AND THE BACKGROUND OF THE DEFENDANT. The data were subjected to various forms of analysis, but the conclusion was clear: BLACKS WERE BEING SENTENCED TO DEATH FAR IN EXCESS of other defendants for similar crimes.” [emphasis added]

    And just what is a “race card”? Is it like a “get out of jail” card or something like that? I ask because I think I may misplaced mine, or it doesn’t work because everywhere I go, whatever I look at, or study, there’s no “race card” dynamic giving me and my people (or poor people, or other people of color) any kind of advantage whatsoever.

    I suspect the “race card” doesn’t really exist — that it’s an empty phrase thrown around when anyone points to empirical proof of systemic racism. that the death penalty is racially biased isn’t really up for dispute, as even conservative governors have called for its stoppage because of that very fact.

  13. I have A LOT on my plate right now, personally speaking. And while I like a good debate, what passes for debate on the internet (and IRL) these days isn’t really debate. For example, I think that one of the rules of debate is that one should UNDERSTAND a point BEFORE disagreeing with it. In fact, there CANNOT be disagreement without understanding. Too often, I find myself continually reposting my points in lieu of real debate, and that’s a huge waste of time for me.

    I would never post a comment without first making certain that I understand (and be able to paraphrase) your points. ALMOST NO ONE does this. My first post on nonviolence is a prime example of this. The comments have now devolved into whether Gandhi was a racist or not, and how I should be responding to commentators.

    the former is an example of a strawman (and no one has really given definitive or even substantiated proof of Gandhi’s supposed transgressions, which are a tangential point to begin with), the latter is an ad hoiminem attack dressed as a “calm” comment.

    That’s. Not. Debate.

    I remember debating someone of the multiply.com site and his response to me was that he was right because he had “studied anthropology.” when I asked whether he could define the construct we were debating, he refused and then accused me of playing (yes) the race card.

    Those types of interactions only bring out my sadistic side, which, while often funny, stings.

  14. I don’t think a thread veering off course is a cause for concern. To me, when this occurs we are seeing first hand what is important to people. Even if it is a smallish bit of what is being presented. Sometimes it is more telling than our best crafted articles.

  15. what a wonderful and fully considered writing .. good for you. I don’t understand any support for an ultimate penalty .. I never liked that “vengeance is mine saith the Lord” but I am willing to give him/her something that I know I is beyond my sense of understanding and authority …. I can’t imagine feeling any better that anyone else would have to grieve like I would … violence breeds violence .. at some point the example of compassion and understanding and forgiveness has to be the only way to fight those demons within us all .. we are supposed to rise about these things. As the economy worsens, if no one is there to provide for those who have been pushed beyond any safety net, and society forgoes any communal responsibility …. where will we be then ?? Interesting conversation here ..

  16. @Mitch and Eddie, and the statistics concerning murderers. I live in a state where; at 51% white is barely a majority; yet the highest number of murderers are white. We’ve had several serial killers; all of them were white. However, if you go into the court room, the highest number of people being brought up on petty charges, such as vagrancy, disorderly conduct, alcohol related infractions and vehicular violations, the room will be crowded with Blacks, Natives and Hispanics, but very few white people. Try figuring that one out.

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