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Another life lost, nothing gained.

Last night, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had the chance to save a life; instead, he cleared the way for the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams. Today, I'd like to examine not this case in particular, nor Williams's rehabilitation as a person, but capital punishment in general.

The death penalty, to me, offers none of the benefits its proponents suggest. No, the ultimate punishment has no place in a civilized society, especially one known for its compassion. It's second chances. It's morality. None of those things, however, seem evident today. The great mob has once again won. But at what cost?

What happened to our intellectual honesty and moral clarity? President Bush, for instance, loves talking about the "culture of life." He also considers himself a "compassionate conservative." How, I ask, does he square those principles with his personal track record? We're talking about the same man who, as governor of Texas, presided over 131 executions.

"I've said once and I've said a lot that in every case," Bush said, "we've adequately answered innocence or guilt." Defendants, he added, "had full access to the courts. They've had full access to a fair trial." Never mind the fact of those cases, 43 of the 131 defense attorneys were later disciplined or disbarred for their legal ineptitude. Some didn't even present evidence.

Many in favor of capital punishment would also consider themselves "pro-life." But the same people fighting for the life of a clump of cells and treating a brain-dead Terri Schiavo as a political prop somehow lose their "compassion" when it comes to death-row inmates.

Hell, why wait that long? They normally lose their compassion once the child is born, only to remember it shortly before death years later. Because, if they actually had any compassion, they would support life-saving or -improving measures like medicinal marijuana or stem-cell research.

Further, for these so-called pro-lifers - the anti-everything Nuisance Generation - it's not about compassion, it's about vengeance. It's about power. It's about the feeling they get when they know the lives of others are in their hands. It's that same soulless bravado - the machismo Schwarzenegger perfected on the silver screen - that results in capital punishment. In torture. In the use of chemical weapons on civilians.

If capital punishment isn't about vengeance, then what is it about? Is it about deterrence? Can you honestly tell me that by putting Williams to death, we're preventing the next generation of brutal murderers? Of course not, because crimes like murder, more often than not, are done without regard for right and wrong, for reason and conscience. Let's say that, every once in a while, the state executes an innocent man, an individual who, through no fault of his own, wasn't afforded a proper defense or the luxury of DNA evidence. How can we then kill without justification knowing that it does absolutely nothing to stop the next murder?

If it's not about vengeance or deterrence, is it about closure? Does Williams's death erase his crimes? Does it for one second bring back those whose lives he took? No. And the moment we decide to take people's lives for their grievous crimes, we lose the moral high ground. We sink even lower as a society. What does it tell our citizens about the value of life when we're so willing to take it from someone - whatever our justification?

Perhaps the support for an ugly practice like capital punishment comes from a sense of distance, of impersonality. The same sense that leads people to support war. If they don't have to see it, face it directly, they can reconcile themselves with it. What if, however, we televised the next execution? What if viewers had the chance to witness a drawn out lethal injection? A graphic electrocution? What if a national audience were able to see the effects of white phosphorus when used as a weapon? Or the deadly results of an improvised explosive device?

Would attitudes change? Or would America's mob mentality and undeniable thirst for blood turn televised executions into the most popular program in existence? The answer, sadly, points more to the latter than the former. And until we begin to address our attitudes toward capital punishment with more than macho posturing or hypocritical beliefs, we're doomed to continue our moral backslide.

Originally posted to BobcatJH on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 08:56 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar (4.00)
    While many of us oppose the death penalty, it continues to shame all of us when done in our name.

    Visit Hughes for America, the Worldwide Leader in Web Log Technology for 50 Years!

    by BobcatJH on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 08:56:48 AM PST

  •  Thank you (none)
    Recommended.

    I posted a diary earlier on clemency.

    This is so heart-breaking that I could not face writing a diary on the death penalty as a whole today.

    Thanks for doing it for all of us.

  •  The truth is (none)
    that it is state sanctioned murder.  I'm so proud to live in a country that murders its own citizens.  I think I'll go buy an American flag t-shirt.
  •  Laura Owens (none)
    I don't want to trivialize the murder of her step-son, but can Laura Owens honestly say today that she completely feels that justice has been served?  I would make a bet that this is not the case --- she is still angry and upset at her step-son's murder and that the state-sponsored murder that occurred last night did not do anything to bring closure.

    They have live audio on CNN from reporters who witnessed the execution and I could not even listen to the whole exchange as I was overcome with nausea.    In my opinion, our lust for capital punishment coupled with the death of thousands of innocent Iraqis, the use of white phosphorous and the torture of detainees has only heightened my belief that we are a barbaric society.

  •  Thank you.... (4.00)
    for putting this into words so eloquently and with such clarity.  
  •  I have (none)
    always opossed the death-penalty, simply because I feel there is no redress for a "wrongful execution."
       Money and financial recompense just won't cut, in my book.
      If someone should be  be "wrongfully executed," they are dead and gone, period.
    What possible redress is there?
  •  Death in our name, blood on our hands. (4.00)
    This is why unjust war and the death penalty make me more angry than any other issue. I am made complicit, through my citizenship, through my taxes, in killing. At least a murdering thug does not claim to be killing for me, nor ask me to pay for his weapons.
  •  Yeah, well..... sorry, but Paul Bernardo (none)
    should not still be drawing breath.  And Karla gets to go about her daily business in Montreal.  
  •  Changes (none)

    I am personally opposed to the death penalty however I believe the anti-death penalty activist would have been better served by trying to get the death penalty on this years referendum in California.  

    Rallying around Tookie doesn't serve their cause very well.  I cannot judge this man based on the media debates as well as bits of evidence and hear say on the internet.  I do have to have faith in our legal system (even though flawed) that they did find him guilty and not entitled to any appeals.  It has been over 20 years he has been on death row with many reviews of his case.

    In light of some death row inmates found innocent in the recent past it seems the winds of change are upon us and hopefully we will have a federal ban on the death penalty once democrats take back Congress.

  •  Changing minds (3.50)
    Do you expect to change a person's mind about the death penalty by calling him a murderer?  IMO, calling all Americans murdereres just gives luke warm pro-death penalty people a reason to ignore you.  

    Oh by the way, which one's pink? -R. Waters

    by Blue Neponset on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 09:17:49 AM PST

  •  i think we should televise it (none)
    maybe then it really would be a deterrant

    and none of this aseptic needle in the arm crap...i want to see murderers drawn and quartered.

    would televising abortions be a deterrant to them? pulling all those little baby bits and pieces out one by one...do you think that would make men put a condom on?

    how bout televising people shooting themselves in the head..would that deter suicides?

    how bout we fully televise the war in iraq....do you think that just might lead people to the conclusion that war shouldnt be entered into lightly?

    how bout televising torture? do you think that would wake america up and turn public opinion further against cheney et al?

    I wish I had a penis on the back of my head.

    by anna in philly on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 09:21:45 AM PST

  •  Did the people Tookie killed get a second chance? (4.00)
    I don't like the idea of criminals getting more chances than their victims. This guy was guilty of the crimes for which he was executed, and even if he wasn't, as a founder of the Crips gang he is liable for hundreds, at least, of other deaths. I won't lose any sleep over his execution. I have no problem with the state killing people who kill innocent people or otherwise do great harm to so many others. Maybe it's not a great deterrant, but there's nothing wrong with giving the victims' friends and relatives the satisfaction of justice or revenge. The fiction that "forgiveness is more rewarding" would be worth less than a cent to me if it was one of my loved ones he or his gang members killed. All that said, I oppose the death penalty, entirely because I know that sometimes the justice system gets it wrong and accuses an innocent man. All the satisfying revenge in the world isn't worth accidentally killing one innocent person, especially since it's not an effective deterrant. I support legislation against the death penalty for that reason. But I do believe cold-blooded murderers deserve to die, and if we had a 100% foolproof way of determining guilt or innocence, I'd support it. And I won't lose any sleep today over the execution of someone who's guilty.
    •  My thoughts exactly (none)
      I'm against the death penalty because of the very real risk that we might kill an innocent person.  But I have a very hard time getting worked up over the execution of a guilty murderer.  If somebody murdered a person about whom I cared deeply, I would want the murderer dead.  This might not be the most "moral" feeling in the world, but I think it's a natural one, and I don't think that I'd be a horrible person for having it.  

      Even if you could make a convincing case that executing the guiltiest of the guilty is morally wrong, I still think that the energy expended grieving over Tookie's death is grossly disproportionate to anything he might deserve.  Tens of thousands of Iraqis--mostly genuinely innocent civilians--have died as a direct result of our government's actions.  (Even the President admits that 30,000 Iraqis have died.)  Given this, it's hard for me to feel much sadness over the death of a convicted murderer.

  •  Many on death row (none)
    deserve our sympathy.

    Not this guy.  A thug at 19, a killer at 22.  

    His passing did more to help his cause than anything.  After all, we now know that 1) you join a gang 2)you kill people 3) you will be executed by the state.

    That is deterence.  I have no problem with it here.

    "Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

    by dataguy on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 09:59:27 AM PST

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