Life As We Blow It: Fit to be killed

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Life As We Blow It: Fit to be killed

Back in February, the Pew Research Center released the results of a poll showing a steep decline in Americans’ support for the death penalty.

I don’t really think that’s what the poll shows, however.

I think the poll shows a sharp increase in the number of Americans who are sick of being forced to defend their belief in the death penalty. Capital punishment is both unpopular and on the decline. Nobody wants to back a loser. And few people want to bring dinner party conversation to a screeching halt by admitting that, while they support Obamacare and a woman’s right to choose, they also think that some people don’t deserve to live, and that governing bodies have a responsibility to inform citizens that their safety’s more important than that of someone demonstrably lacking in essential humanity.

Being viewed as pro-death, in any context, is generally not good for one’s reputation.

But let’s face it — capital punishment is as old as humanity, and as American as baseball, apple pie, nation-building and marginalizing those who might keep you from getting yours. If you want the death penalty to go away, well, that’s fine; change can be good. If you don’t want it to go away, you’ll need to steel yourself to the outraged, aggressive, even accusatory arguments that will inevitably arise, and be ready to speak up.

Here are the four anti-death penalty arguments most often employed, and how to best counter them.

“Capital punishment isn’t a deterrent.”

No, it’s not. That’s why they don’t call it capital example-making. It’s a penalty imposed by our legal system for heinous acts. How come nobody ever points out that incarceration doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent, either? Viewing capital punishment as a possible deterrent for other would-be lawbreakers makes you sound like you support dictators who put that shit on TV to scare dissenters. Fascist. If you’d support the death penalty if only it were proven to be more of a deterrent, just bring it on back out to the town square.

“It costs more to execute someone than it does to incarcerate them for life.”

That’s not a capital-punishment problem, it’s a bureaucracy problem. The entire appellate and judicial processes need to be reworked. Individuals who confess to or are convicted of certain crimes due to incontrovertible evidence may require a separate and more streamlined process. You’ve seen too many legal thrillers. There usually isn’t a conspiracy or mitigating circumstance.

“If we impose the death penalty, we’re no better than the killers we’re punishing.”

First of all, that’s simply not true. If it were, it would apply to every soldier who killed someone in battle or every cop or civilian who killed someone protecting himself or another, and civilization would collapse under the weight of its own moral conundrum. Justifiable homicide exists within the context of our culture. Secondly, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty, to sacrifice, to debase yourself in the name of creating something better.

“Sir William Blackstone said, ‘It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.’”

Yes, yes he did. But he said it about preserving the presumption of innocence during trial, not about capital (or any) punishment specifically, and he said it at a time when people thought a sneeze was the devil poking you with his pitchfork so he could pickpocket your soul. We have DNA tech; we have phone records; we have cameras freakin’ everywhere. No one should be unjustly punished at all, much less executed for a crime he or she didn’t commit. And again, the entire legal system is desperately in need of an upgrade.

So let’s make a deal: I’ll help you rebuild a system that doesn’t convict innocent people, and then you’ll keep your opinions about what I might want to do to some of the guilty ones to yourself.



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