Capital Punishment


It is not the criminal we should hate but the causes of crime

Growing numbers of Canadians are suggesting that capital punishment should be reinstated. It is not because they are vicious, but because they are fearful. Afraid that violent crime is on the rise, they hope to stamp it out by sending a message to criminals. Why do they think killing people that kill people will teach others that killing people is wrong? Ironically, rather than lowering the murder rate, reinstating capital punishment causes it to rise! This is a well established fact that has been reported in study after study.

Because of limited space, I won’t be able to prove all the points I am about to make. However, if you are interested in learning more, you will find all the documentation you want at http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/links/dplinks.htm. At this web site you will find the links to 1000 other sites that provide the statistics, data, and research you need to support your arguments for or against the death penalty.

Why would reinstating the death penalty cause the murder rate to rise? It is because the institution of capital punishment brutalizes society. It sends the message that it is acceptable to kill some people. It is acceptable to murder murderers, for instance. Oscar Wilde explains the problem this way, "One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted; and a community is infinitely more brutalized by the habitual employment of punishment than it is by the occasional occurrence of crime."

Capital punishment not only numbs the consciences of citizens, but it desensitizes the state itself. For example, in 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court held that executing people with mental retardation was not a violation of the constitution! It did hold, however, that jurors should consider mental retardation as a mitigating factor. In a recent case in Texas, President Bush stayed the execution of an individual because the jurors were not told that the perpetrator was retarded. The case was retried and the jury decided to administer the death penalty anyway! Fortunately, there are now fifteen states outlawing such executions and we can expect more and more of the remaining states to grow enlightened enough to follow suit. Meanwhile, other retarded, mentally ill, and psychologically damaged people will be sentenced to death.

Of what value is the death penalty? Does it cure the problem that caused the offense? Henry Ford didn’t think so, for he said, "Capital punishment is as fundamentally wrong as a cure for crime as charity is wrong as a cure for poverty." The death penalty is a deterrence only to those of sound mind. So, how can it deter killers, who are sick, act in a fit of passion, and never expect to get caught?

Incompatible with contemporary religious and spiritual thought

How are nations to be judged if not by the way they look after the least of their brethren? How do they care for their mentally ill and retarded, their homeless, their religious and ethnic minorities, their sick and elderly, their handicapped, their women and children, and their criminals? Their actions will reveal them to be enlightened or barbaric.

Aren’t the aims of religious or spiritual people to be compassionate, forgiving, and merciful? If so, are we to view criminals as sinners or sick? As depraved or disturbed? As in need of punishment or in need of help? For something to think about, I’ll quote from Martin Wooley, a death row inmate at Menard, Illinois:

"Our laws are written and our penalties and punishments inflicted with the idea in mind that people are always able to do right and that man is always able to control his conduct — to choose freely between right and wrong. I suggest to you that in assessing punishment, you have to take into account the nature of human beings. We all know something about human nature. We all know something of ourselves. Consider the power of temptation, the pressure of peers, the force of habit, the effects of heredity, the limitations of intellect, the domination of want, and the effects of poverty and helplessness. Until we understand these things, until we know that human beings are capable of always doing right, we should not bind and kill those who do a dreadful act. Our very own ignorance should make us merciful. Until we understand a person’s thoughts, passions, fears, sorrows and weaknesses, we should not assume that what he did was done with cold deliberation and contemplation."

The death penalty is a denial of hope. A denial of redemption, recovery, or rehabilitation. Do we wish to succumb to our lower nature of fear and vengeance or rise to our higher nature of love? Of what value is love if we love only those who don't offend us? Do we wish to return to the old law of "an eye for an eye?" Isn’t it true as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.said, "That old law about "an eye for an eye" leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing."

Do we wish to return to 18th century England and have 200 offenses punishable by death? Or, do we wish to return to the public hangings of mid-19th century England? I don’t think so. I believe we want to liberate ourselves from fear and become vessels of compassion.

Creates more victims and is administered unfairly

No system is perfect. Mistakes are inevitable. Because of this, innocent lives will be taken in the name of "justice." In fact, it is believed that as many as 3 of every 100 criminals executed may be innocent. In other words, the state may be guilty of murdering more people than the murderer they execute.

How can two wrongs make a right? It is bad enough that the loved ones of a murderer’s victim must suffer, but when we execute the murderer, we now extend the suffering to the loved ones of the murderer. Also, despite the exceptions, it is the poor, disturbed, and minority members of society that are put to death. The rich and powerful escape the punishment of the less fortunate. The cynicism that this breeds in society is revealed in the Czech Proverb, "The big thieves hang the little ones."

About 2,300 years ago Diogenes taught, "Why not whip the teacher when the pupil misbehaves?" In other words, why not execute society when the criminal misbehaves? Obviously we need to take responsibility. Instead of eradicating the lives of killers, we need to eradicate the causes of crime. Will it take money to do so? Of course, it will, but what is the purpose of money if it is not to do good? Besides, it will cost less than most people think. Why? Because it costs between two and three million dollars to execute one criminal in the United States. After all, the death penalty is so final that the criminal must be given every opportunity to appeal his case and prove his innocence, or have his mitigating circumstances considered. So, instead of spending two and a half million dollars to execute a criminal, we could spend $62,500 a year for forty years trying to rehabilitate him!

© Chuck Gallozzi
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