Friday, December 02, 2005

Off with their heads

The land of the free and the home of the brave is also the land of government-sanctioned killing. We've managed to execute 1000 people since 1976, with the execution of the sorry human being Kenneth Boyd yesterday. He is sorry, but we should be sorrier.

I have only the same old tired arguments to share. Executing criminals is not a proven deterrent. Executing criminals is barbaric, and places us in an ethical or moral plane similar to that of Saudi Arabia or Iran or Vietnam. Inmates on death row are, with alarming frequency, found to be unjustly convicted. And inmates on death row are statistically significantly more poor and black than the populace.

Former Illinois Governor George Ryan (now on trial for corruption) was so struck by the inherent unfairness in our legal system that his last act as Governor was to commute 167 death row inmate's sentences. He said that death penalty was "arbitrary and capricious."

My favorite state, Texas, has more than a third of all executions thus far. But even Texas, after years of stinging public attacks by death penalty opponents, is finally slowing down its fevered pace of killing. Public opinion is apparently swinging there (and elsewhere) against the death penalty after press coverage of shaky death penalty killings. An October Gallup Poll indicates only 64 percent of Americans favored the death penalty, down from a high of 80 percent in 1994.

Outside of the prison, as 1000th man Boyd was being executed, a Sheriff said, "Tonight justice has been served." I've really thought long and hard about that. What does justice mean? Revenge? Eye for an eye? I looked up "just" in my trusty online dictionary. (Wish I still had my family's gimongo dictionary. Loved that thing.) Says it means "having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason."

I don't see it, it being "just" to kill someone for killing someone else. I don't see the basis in fact, nor do I see it in reason. Executions are not a just punishment, all the way through the spectrum of reasons. On one side, killing is too short, too easy--particularly when we have life in prison to offer criminals. On the other side, a life for a life is never an even trade.

And a nation engaging in revenge is not a pretty sight. Look at Iraq, the war being our revenge for its supposed hand in 9/11. Revenge is a mucky mire that sticks to your boots long after you've managed to extricate yourself from the initial mud. Dubya may never get that crap off his cowboy boots. Do we, as a nation, really want the blood of a 1000 on our shoes?

Not me.

Until tomorrow,


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