Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters
socratic

A (muddled) response

iconoclast asks why the state should not kill James Garrison's murderer.

First of all, no reasonable person wants or wanted James dead. His death is tragic and horrible and unbearable for his family.

But he is dead.

There is nothing that can be done for him now. His death can't be "avenged." He gains nothing from vengeance because he can't gain anything from ANYTHING. He's gone.

The state can no longer consider his welfare relevant because he has no welfare. It can only look at other things. Things like A) The safety and welfare of living persons B) The feelings of his friends and family. C) The costs of various forms of punishment for Garrison.

It has another element to consider, something that most people don't like to think about. The welfare of James Garrison's killer.

Yes it seems obscene to suggest that the state should not consider James Garrison's well-being but has to concern itself with his killer's, but it's just a fact of life and death. James Garrison is beyond help. His killer is not only very much alive but will likely spend the rest of his life in state custody.

So taking the various relevant factors into account why shouldn't the state kill James Garrison's killer? After all while it may not do anything for James it could give his family closure, deter future potential killers, get the guy out of the state's hands etc...etc...

The state should not kill Garrison's killer because execution doesn't work.

First the concept of vengeance.

Vengeance is a piss poor reason to do anything. Think about it for a moment. Maybe James Garrison's family wants his killer dead. An eye for an eye. That may seem reasonable to some. What if they wanted something other than the killer's death? What if they wanted him to spend the rest of his life suffering torture? What if they wanted the life of his wife or child so he could feel the same loss they do? Where do you draw the line?

Vengeance is not a good reason for the law to do something. The law needs to be impartial, not emotional. It needs to concern itself with society rather than the individual.

So what's the point of punishing Garrison's killer? To deter other killers and to keep him from killing again. Well the death penalty has no proved value as a deterrent. At least not compared to life in prison. Study after study has shown that the death penalty does not reduce crime. Killers don't think that they'll be caught. They don't say "I wouldn't shoot this dude if I'd be executed for it, but since I'm only going to spend the rest of my life behind bars I might as well."

It's also not cheap to execute somebody. It's more expensive than housing them for life. No savings there.

Finally there's the killer's life to consider. As a fellow citizen he deserves a chance to reform himself and lead a productive life (albeit behind bars where he can't hurt anyone.) He's not JUST a killer you know. Nobody is. Every killer is also a son or daughter, a lover, a parent, an abuse victim, a writer, a human being. To define someone by the worst thing that they've ever done is to try and push that aside and pretend that they aren't like us. They aren't deserving of mercy or forgiveness like we are. They don't make mistakes or bad decisions, like we do. Killers are often described as "cold blooded" reptilian, other. They're not. Jeffrey Dahlmer was someone's neighbor. Ted Bundy had a third grade teacher.

Killers are people. People who've made terrible mistakes, but people nonetheless. To snuff out a life is an unspeakable act, even if it is a life that's been poorly lived. This ultimately comes down to a value judgment, but I am confident in the one I've made. I don't think it's ever okay to kill someone when there's another option. You must always leave open the door to redemption, just as you would want that door left open for you.

Of course all this ignores the most important reason why the state should not execute, and that is that it does a piss poor job of it. Innocent people are convicted on a regular basis and some are sentenced to death. How many innocent people should die, losing the chance to be exonerated and set free by future evidence, so that we can satisfy our lust for vengeance? Our blood lust. I say none. How many are you willing to kill so that you can kill some who are guilty?

The state also executes people for bad reasons. Blacks are much more likely to be sentenced to death for a given crime than whites are. They are also more likely to be convicted, given the same evidence. Juries and judges are racist. They convict and condemn for bad reasons. They are human. They make mistakes.

The death penalty, then, is racist. Maybe not inherently, but in the way it is carried out. We kill a black man when a white man would be given a chance to reform. We weigh the value of their lives differently.

I cannot support that.

There are a million reasons why the death penalty is a bad idea and none that make it a good one. It is an irrational, unthinking, barbaric way to run a legal system. It serves no rational or positive purpose for society. Murder is a horrible crime.

State sanctioned or not.
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