A Forum for Opinions on News, Politics, and Life
November 7th, 2008
There are a number of contentious issues that have been part of our political discussion for years, regardless of which party is in power. There are reasons these issues don’t go away. First, opinions on all sides are deeply felt and enduring, and second, definitive solutions are beyond the strength and will of politicians. The death penalty is one of the most enduring of these issues.
Our legal system may be among the best the world has ever seen, but it isn’t infallible. We all know that, regardless of how we feel about the death penalty. One glaring fallacy in the system is the fact that justice, plainly put, is for sale. Not usually because of corruption, but because those who can buy the best lawyers have a better chance of winning. That means the ultimate outcome of the system, death, falls most often on those who have the least money.
Even if our system could be improved to eliminate the effect of class and money, it still wouldn’t be perfect. Mistakes will be made because human beings are involved. That means that innocent people will be killed by the state. Once that killing has taken place, correcting errors is meaningless.
Finally, there’s the morality of it. From my first days in basic training in the Army, I was taught that soldiers don’t kill prisoners who do not present a threat. If that’s morally correct, and it is, then how can we permit the state to kill its prisoners? The question is not whether captured enemy soldiers should have a right to live, while convicted murderers should not. The question is whether the state, acting through its soldiers or its courts, should have the authority to kill people in its custody.
Personal feelings and public policy are too often confused in debates over issues like this. I personally feel little sympathy for enemy soldiers on the battlefield or for people who commit murder and other capital crimes. And yes, I would not hesitate to blow away anyone who was in the act of committing one of these crimes. Nor would I lose any sleep over it. But those are gut feelings, animal reactions. Public policy is another matter. It must be made on a rational basis, separate from the cold fury of emotion and the bitter demand for righteous vengeance.
I’m against the death penalty, at least until it doesn’t matter how much money an accused person has and the legal system doesn’t make mistakes. And even in the unlikely event these problems are solved, I doubt I’ll ever be able to accept that our social contract should include empowering the state to kill us.
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