In his anti-execution documentary Into The Abyss, Werner Herzog asked a prison chaplain, “why does God allow capital punishment?” In my last post I responded that the better question is, “why does God allow sociopaths to continually victimize innocent people?” Not one filmmaker or movie star has asked that question. I’m here to tell you that the arguments against the death penalty are philosophically shallow and intellectually vapid.
One of the statements made by Delbert Burkett, father of convicted murderer Jason Burkett – whose partner in crime was executed by the State of Texas in 2010 – was, “killin’ Michael Perry isn’t gonna bring those people back. It’s not gonna raise anyone from the dead.” That’s a comment made by every anti-death penalty celebrity in the world, particularly in the US. Capital punishment is useless because it doesn’t bring back the victims, they say. It’s cruel and unusual punishment. We never have the right to take a human life.
(The same group of people will demand abortion rights in the name of a woman’s right to choose and find ways to dehumanize a human fetus to rationalize murder to their so-called consciences. Go figure.)
That argument is emotional at best. It carries no truth. If our aim was to bring back the dead, then there would be no point to punishment at all. Why sentence someone to life in prison? I mean, it’s not going to bring their victims back from the dead. Why would we send a man to prison for kidnapping and raping his ex-wife? It’s not going to stop her nightmares or put a stop to her fear of quiet parking lots. Why should we send a man to prison for stealing cars and breaking into homes? It’s not going to replace the lost sense of security that his victims deal with now.
See how silly that argument is? If we’re not using the death penalty at least in part for punishment, then there would be no point – and punishment is half of the point. The other half is deterrence. Those who oppose the death penalty claim that it doesn’t deter anything. I wholeheartedly disagree, and the numbers prove that argument wrong.
According to the numbers, when the Supreme Court halted the death penalty for a few years in the early 1970’s, murder rates skyrocketed almost overnight. It took time for the death penalty to be re-instituted, and once it began to gain traction again in the 1990’s murder rates dropped by nearly half. During a long portion of time, many murderers confessed and later said they did so because they knew they wouldn’t be executed for their crimes. As for complete deterrence, nobody has any illusion that the death penalty will put an end to murder; if elimination were our standard for punishment, we still wouldn’t be putting people in prison. Capital punishment has been proven to deter murders, but we’ll never really know how many people have been stopped from committing murder for pecuniary gain because nobody in their right mind will admit that they considered committing a murder. Those who would admit it are likely in dire need of regular phenobarbital treatments, anyway.
It’s not as if I have never struggled with my belief in the death penalty. Because I carry a gun, I have considered at length whether I would be willing to take a life if the situation called for it (I don’t think you should carry a gun unless you ARE willing to kill, and you’d best know how you feel and what you think about doing it before you end up needing to in self-defense). I won’t know until and unless I ever have to commit the act, and I hope like hell that I never have to, but I’ve also been faced with death in my duties as an EMT and I have given death a lot of consideration – both my own death and that of others. My faith tells me I should forgive. My faith also tells me I should be able to balance justice and mercy, and know when the greatest lesson will be learned from one or the other.
So many criminals in our society depend on the faith-based mercy of others. That dependence has been fulfilled so often that it has morphed into expectation. I have met so few inmates who actually intended to change their behavior that I have a hard time believing that any of them care to change. I have met many, however, who struck me as being so evil that their very presence in the room made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I’ve worked with inmates whose self-serving behavior and subsequent excuses screamed “PSYCHOPATH!”
Our justice system will never be perfect, but we have to be willing to accept that there is evil in this world and there always will be no matter what we do. As long as human beings are running the show in this world there will be imperfection. Evil will persist no matter how much we wish we could reason everyone into being good. We have to be willing to accept being uncomfortable once in a while to make sure evil doesn’t win. That means that we have to accept that not all life is indispensible; those who have made the choice to objectify others and make victims out of innocent people forfeit their lives, even to the point of execution.
As for the argument that it’s cruel and unusual punishment…horsefeathers. Ask the victims about the fear and extreme pain they experienced before they died. Ask their surviving friends and family what they experience every day after losing their loved one.