It’s ironic that I write this on what is known as “Star Wars Day”, because the debate surrounding capital punishment reminds me of a quote from Episode III of the movie saga.
When Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin/Lord Vader (possibly the worst actor to join an established movie cast in film history Hayden Christiansen) are duelling towards the end of “Revenge of the Sith”, there comes this exchange :
Anakin : “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy!”
Obi-Wan : “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”
An ironic quote I know, since Obi-Wan himself is offering an absolute of sorts…but the point is that when someone jumps to an extreme in a debate, it usually means they have a personal agenda in mind rather than a desire to come up with a reasonable conclusion that has considered all the available options with an open mind.
My contention is that it has been a concerted effort of the establishment to muddy the waters on most major issues in an attempt to disguise their overall aim of simply keeping the rich richer.
I Am NOT suggesting they are as “evil” as the Sith in the Star Wars saga, however….note that I am comparing them to a character who’s story arc both begins and ends with much “good in him”.
To return to the death penalty, the problem faced by anyone who opposes it is that they can be depicted as ones who wish to excuse any crimes committed by a prisoner who finds him or herself on “death row”.
Consider the following; my apologies if it is overly gruesome…
“(Clayton) Lockett was convicted of kidnapping and shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman, as part of a 1999 home invasion. She survived the initial assault; Lockett ordered two accomplices to bury her alive. He also raped one of her friends. He was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to death. His accomplices are serving life sentences.” – The Guardian
So if I tell you that I feel the state of Oklahoma did a bad thing by botching Lockett’s execution during the week, you could say that I am somehow suggesting that he didn’t deserve any punishment (or if you were feeling really ballsy you could say I somehow approved of what he did) and to top off your argument you could offer this supposed clincher – “what if he had done this to someone you cared about?”
Well there is no arguing with this mindset, though that doesn’t make it right.
Here is the bulk of my case against the death penalty, with points in no particular order…as you can see, much of it is based on my beliefs.
1) I don’t believe there exists “absolute” certainty on any court ruling, and to reject the death penalty would respect the fallibility of the judicial system.
2) Of course it is natural for the victims and their families/communities to seek harsh retribution, and I definitely would, but this is why the defendants are tried by the State and not by those in mourning.
3) Having studied Psychology (not extensively enough for a career yet enough to have a decent grasp) I would see beyond the financial burden on the tax-payer to keep such prisoners alive and appreciate the opportunity to study them and their pathology with a view to possibly preventing dangerous people such as this killing again. A vain hope you might say but is it any more vain than the hope of finding a cure for cancer?
4) I firmly believe that the existence of the death penalty does not act as a deterrent for cold-blooded murder.
5) I also believe that this is not an argument which can be presented as “an eye for an eye”. When a person commits murder, even if it is carefully planned, the process in no way resembles that of a legislative body coming up with a means of establishing a protocol for a state execution. When you call for the death penalty you are asking your parliament to debate and draft a set of laws which outlines precisely how to kill a prisoner. As was illustrated by the State of Oklahoma, this presents a multitude of difficulties. If you reach a point where you have to say “well screw the laws, he deserved what he got”, you set a precedent that when taken to its own extremes renders the judicial system virtually worthless.
Here is my utopian suggestion to help solve the debate over the death penalty.
Take a jurisdiction like Ireland which doesn’t have it at the moment. We used to hang people here so it’s not like we never had it, so we would make for a good test case.
I would suggest that we hold a referendum, with a simple question : “Do we re-introduce the death penalty to Ireland? Yes or no”. But although the question may be simple, the vote itself would be unorthodox.
For this special election, everyone would be made aware of a special provision. Should the “Yes” side of the argument win, then the names of all who voted for the motion would be kept on a register, though not for publication.
The reason their names would be retained is that for every time a prisoner was to be put to death, 12 from the register would be chosen, and all would be compelled by law to be present at the execution, and further still, one would be chosen at random to actually carry it out.
Throughout history although many have argued for the death penalty, when it comes to actually doing it, great lengths have been taken to hide the identity of those performing it.
The guy operating the guillotine would wear a mask, the guy throwing the switch for the electric chair would be behind a screen, the people holding the guns for a firing squad would do so through a hole in the wall and in the case of the gas, multiple people would be used to drop pellets into the chamber with only one of them actually containing the killer gas so that nobody knew who actually killed the inmate.
My contention is simple – you want it, you do it.
Your name can still be kept private, as is currently the case with executioners, but although I know full well my suggestion would never actually happen, i wonder just how many would vote yes if it did.
I guess we’ll never know. JLP