It takes a spot of courage to stand up tall and a bit of derring-do to rise when you fall

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

That Which Requires Consideration

There is an event that took place not far from where I live. It took place at 12:01 tonight at San Quentin Prison. Stanley "Tookie" Williams was sentenced to die (and I'm assuming did) for four horrific murders, a not-insignificant crime by any means or standards---murders that he claims he didn't commit and has never, from what I understand, expressed remorse for. No matter what side of the fence one stands on concerning the issue of the death penalty, this is a sobering day, a sobering event.

Did he deserve clemency? Should his life have been spared? Had he changed his spots? Had he proved that he had turned his life completely around? Is it possible for that to be a factor? How could it be measured or determined? Is the death penalty barbaric? If you're a Christian, is it Christlike? Does that point even factor in? Is it relevant? Is it the fundamental underlying point? Does the death penalty solve anything? Is it a deterrent? Is it proposed to be such? Is it merely punishment and not meant as a deterrent? Should it be an overwhelming defense against it when you consider that innocent people die? Does it make sense to kill for killing? Do we have the right to "play God"? It is civilized? Is it justice?

These are questions being pounded over the airwaves, talked about over coffee, written about in newspapers, hashed over on talk radio. Each side has a definite answer and definite reasons and sees it clearly from its point of view. And it's not impossible to see a strength on each side, to each side's argument. You see people like Richard Allen Davis (the man who killed Polly Klass, kidnapped this young girl from her bedroom, raped her and killed her), you hear of him smirking in the courtroom---clearly unrepentant---and the death penalty seems too easy a consequence. And then you hear of men being cleared by new evidence, DNA, uncovered witnesses, being freed after years in prison---and you wonder: how many innocent men have died? How many? How many?

It's a serious issue. It's a life-or-death issue. What is the right answer? Is there one? If there isn't a definite right answer, isn't there a best one?


Anonymous Cal said...

I don't have any philosophical objection to the death penalty in the abstract-- I can accept the notion that there are some crimes so horrific that it's appropriate for society to decide that those who commit such crimes should die. However, I have an issue with the death penalty in application, particularly here in the US. Our legal system is blind to neither class nor color; the statistics I've seen on racial disparities in application of the death penalty are appalling. But that aside, the process is too error prone (witness the 13 DNA-related exonerations in Illinois a few years back) -- not to mention irreversible-- to be justified.

On top of that, given how many countries have abolished the death penalty, I think it tends to isolate us and diminish our international credibility.

So there.

3:04 AM, December 13, 2005

Blogger bryan torre said...

what cal said.

10:02 AM, December 13, 2005

Blogger bryan torre said...

PS. I notice your profile paragraph now says you feel like a teenage GIRL. I think it's very brave and commendable when a guy steps forward and confesses to feelings like that...

10:03 AM, December 13, 2005

Blogger jay are said...

(I knew it I knew it. It would seem like a guy wanting to be a girl. Okay that does it. I'm going to become JAYNE are, I guess. A sex change, if you will. Which isn't a crime.)

10:08 AM, December 13, 2005

Blogger heatherfeather said...

i have a philosohpical and application objection to the death penalty, for the reasons that cal has to the US's application therein and other more human rights, tree-huggy reasons...

looking at countries that do have the death penalty is a sobering reality check - it puts us in the company of states we would never have through we'd be share in any circumstance...

and jay are, it's difficult to embrace your inner female. you go girl. there's a sex change clinic in trinidad, colorado. i'll drive down and sit with you, if you'd like.

12:15 PM, December 13, 2005

Blogger unca said...

I've recently made a brief comment on capital punishment on my blog at:
I hope it's ok to use "Derring-do" to refer.

12:56 PM, December 13, 2005

Blogger unca said...

Please also see:

1:14 PM, December 13, 2005

Blogger jay are said...

hey unca, glad to sponsor any site that would open up the conversation and give us points to ponder. Thanks for sharing....

you, too, h-f...and thanks for the clinic info. I'll be giving you a call :)

2:15 PM, December 13, 2005

Blogger Meow said...

Off the topic of this post ....
Apologies to you for putting in my post that you were male ... teaches me to read into a profile, doesn't it. No offence was meant, just me being slack. Sorry again. Take care, Meow

4:16 PM, December 13, 2005

Anonymous Cal said...

i followed unca's link to his excellent post about the invalidity of the argument that in executing criminals, "the state lowers itself to the criminal’s level by committing the same act and is, thereby, guilty and debased." He made the analogy that fines are not 'stealing', and incarceration isn't 'kidnapping'-- the role of the state is clearly different from that of individuals. And while, like unca, I ultimately reject the argument that "execution is murder", I thought I had interesting things to say about this, and tried to post a response, only to find unca prohibits anyone without a blog to comment. what an elitist. anyway, i figured i might as well respond here:

while i don't subscribe to the "state is a murderer" point of view, I don't believe it's wholly unsupportable. There's a fairly distinct line between capital punishment and the examples you provided, in that the death penalty is an infliction of physical injury to (actually, the destruction of) a person; incarceration and monetary fines are not. And while many of the limits to individual behavior do not apply to the state, others do; some actions (goes the argument) are so inherently wrong that they are morally proscribed to both individual and state.

We tend to recoil at any other (ie, not the death penalty) form of literal, physical lex talionis (ie, "the law of retaliation"). Most of us would consider a system that officially and literally enforces "an eye for an eye" barbaric. We don't cane people (here); we wouldn't accept a law that provided for rapists to be raped as retribution, nor arsonists to be burned and disfigured according to the disfigurement of their victims. The idea of such state-sanctioned, state-inflicted injury seems beneath us, something that would diminish us as a society. One could make a reasonable case that such laws would be more about hatred, revenge and schadenfreude than about justice, deterrence, or safety. The application of this same line of reasoning to the death penalty-- that most extreme form of literal lex talionis-- doesn't seem specious to me.

12:45 PM, December 14, 2005

Blogger unca said...

Thanks for your thought-provoking response to my elitist blog. I wasn't even aware that I had a "no non-bloggers allowed" policy until you and "Jay are" pointed it out! Anyway, I've fixed it and I'd be honored if you posted your response on micrographia where we might start another thread on this subject. Since you mention deterrence, I'd also be interested in your reaction to my previous post on that as well. And thanks, Jay are, again for the shameless use of "Derring-do" in carrying on this side conversation.

2:18 PM, December 14, 2005

Blogger jay are said...

doin' what I can :)

4:51 PM, December 14, 2005

Blogger Michelle said...

Thought provoking post Jay. Australia has a few men that were executed for murders that were later found to be very very weak in evidence, and instead were used as political stances.
I don't buy that a fine isn't stealing or incarceration is not kidnapping, very poor analogy's when we're talking about human life. What gives anyone the right to flick the switch? It's all about seeking revenge.

5:33 AM, December 16, 2005


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