Nothing but a modern lynch-mob

“It is tempting to pretend that people on death row share a fate in no way connected to our own, that our treatment of them sounds no echoes beyond the chambers in which they die. Such an illusion is ultimately corrosive, for the reverberations of injustice are not so easily confined.”

– Justice William Brennan

This is a ballad about injustice and punishment. By the time you finish it, our friendly neighbour to the south will have sanctioned death upon its most heinous criminals for a little over 200 years.

The practice is attacked by proponents of the left who argue it’s a violation of human rights, has no deterrent effect, and disproportionately targets the poor and minority groups. Justice is blind, but it may also be deaf. The United States stands proudly ahead of China in GDP but it’s a close second in yearly executions. It’s time each of 38 states who perform capital punishment realize that abolishing the death penalty will not bring the four horsemen of the apocalypse and acknowledge the inherent fallibility of the justice system.

When looking for kernels of wisdom I don’t often read the bible, but I did manage to glean the pro-death penalty argument from it recently. Between feeding hundreds with a single loaf of bread and parting the sea, this book of incontrovertible fact mentioned something about “an eye for an eye.” By the time redemption and resurrection arrived it became clear it had no difficulty juggling the the golden rule of the importance of forgiveness with the tenet of avenging wrong.

Capital punishment is nothing more than state sanctioned murder and a citizenry otherwise quick to attack issues of injustice should no longer sit idly by. The debate on capital punishment has reached an intellectual filibuster perpetuated by conservatives who enjoy large dividend checks, gated communities and the sermon of Mammon, never looking at crime as a function of social condition but as the scourge of an inherited disease; if not of minorities then of welfare mothers and Hollywood’s hedonists. The system of justice is human and therefore fallible; it is one whereby the inequality of one’s defense is predicated on the assets and liabilities one carries, a credit rating where a high salaried career makes the difference between an incompetent court appointed lawyer or Johnny Cochrane.

Science often wages a losing battle against organized plutocrats, and since 1973 with the onset of DNA evidence, over 119 people in the US have been exonerated from death row with evidence of their innocence, some only minutes before their executions.

Justice is a volatile experiment and as much as discoveries are realized through scientific inquiry, mistakes are made, labs are ruined, scientific egos are sullied and serendipity takes hold. The forces of chance and accidental discovery have surely been deified to heuristic rank–all arrows pointing to the injustice of capital punishment. Capital punishment was an inheritance of generations that killed by public hanging, hunted witches, and disemboweled criminals in a public forum. By the time the post-modern condition adopted it, I don’t see how the colourful balloons and party hats of civility (death by less cruel and less torturous means, talk of salvation and redemption) have done very little to alter the core of the argument: revenge. Capital punishment is a cruel practice hardly satisfying any of the four core goals of the penal system: deterrence, retribution, rehabilitation, and segregation. The ones it does could be met just as adequately with life sentences. We are becoming monsters as we attempt to redress the crimes of monsters.

The justice system is as fallible as the people who run it and just as biased as a prosecutor’s closing comments. Until we’re able to raise the dead, the death penalty should be abolished.

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