I do not contend that this post contains anything of great originality, but it is sincere and from the heart. Its message has been reiterated often, but, evidently, not often enough. It is based on little beyond my own personal sentiments, my own conviction of its logic and my belief that compassion should be stronger than hate. It is unashamedly single-sided, for I will not tolerate those who would call for another’s death.
The United States cannot be considered to have reached any point of civilization until it names, whether by Supreme Court ruling of unconstitutionality, or by constitutional amendment, the death penalty for what it truly is: a monstrosity of anti-humanism that is degrading to its victims and, in their self-assuredness, the perpetrators.
On the 8th of December, 2009, at approximately 11.30am, Kenneth Biros, a notorious sex-killer of especially brutality, was given a new and untested, single-chemical lethal injection before his body was taken away from the site in a hearse. The new method was introduced after, in September, Ohio’s incompetent execution technicians were unable to find a vein in a prisoner and spent two hours sticking needles into various parts of his anatomy (including bone) before abandoning the attempt. However, without no existing medical data available (nobody has ever been given this high a dose before), there was no way of truly knowing the results. He could have merely been left severely brain damaged. This is little more than human experimentation. Furthermore, it was unnecessary. Consult the Amnesty International website for conclusive statistics that show the death penalty is 1.) ineffectual as a deterrent and 2.) highly racially-biased.
The arguments for the death penalty are weak. They focus on retribution and protection. Retribution can be obtained by knowing that someone will spend the remainder of their life in prison. Protection of the public can be assured by the same means. David Grossman, in what I would probably consider to be the finest piece of literature I have ever read, See Under: Love, remarks that every single human being is a unique work of art and, in killing, something is destroyed that can never be replaced. Why is it acceptable to call for a human being’s death merely because they have broken the social contract? Is it not evident that this is incitement to murder? Those who call for a person’s death should realise that, in doing so, they break the very social contract that they seek to uphold.
Furthermore, many of these calls come from the Conservative Christian bible belt. The same god-botherers who obstruct women’s reproductive freedoms with their anti-abortion agenda seem more than happy to condone the death of other human beings. “But unborn babies are innocent!” Certainly in Roman Catholic theological dogma, there have only been two “innocent” births free of original sin since Adam and Eve; the immaculate conception of Mary and the birth of Jesus. Additionally, I find it always pays to remember that all adults are innocent children who have been exposed to society; even lawyers were children once and we must blame the whole social framework, with which we are all complicit, for the social experience that leads some members of our race to murder.
However, the arrogance does not end here. The death penalty smacks of an assured finality to the justice system. It cannot exist without a belief in the infallibility of the conviction. So how is it, then, that Troy Davis, with whom I have recently corresponded, came two hours away from execution, despite the fact that no murder weapon was ever found and seven of the nine eyewitnesses have now retracted their testimony? (One of the remaining witnesses is the secondary suspect.) Procedural difficulties have almost (a recent Supreme Court hearing in his favour overturned this) resulted in his death purely because of the inadmissibility of new evidence. Even some of the Supreme Court justices dissented from the view that it was wrong to execute an innocent man. This is obscene.
The death penalty is collective punishment. Murderers are parents’ children, partners’ partners and children’s parents. Regardless of what someone has done, this bond remains and it seems that to have one’s parent, child or partner killed by the state is a psychic torment beyond endurance. For it to, further, be taboo to mourn their death – for it was a “deserved” punishment – is sick. The state owes a duty of care to not inflict cruelty, in psychic or physical form, upon its citizens and especially those relatives who have committed no crime.
Michel Foucault, whose theories still hold some resonance today, asked whether a horrendous death penalty involving torture was truly worse than a regulative, normalising system which removed the freedom to commit the crime in the first place. It seems, to me, a moot distinction. A nation that would impose the death penalty is clearly not responsible enough to enjoy the freedoms which should accompany it.