Justice vs. Vengeance

First off I won’t argue that Stanley “Tookie” Williams was redeemed, evil, or any point in between. That is not my point here. I don’t know whether or not he did what he was convicted of. I don’t know if he deserved clemency. I’m not even sure what guidelines there are (or if there even are guidelines) to grant clemency.

I’ve never supported the death penalty for the plain fact that it is impossible to support it. Here are my beliefs re:the death penalty and why it needs to be abolished.

  • If someone close to me were to be murdered – I’m pretty sure I’d want those responsible to be wiped off this planet. Maybe I would have the strength to forgive – but if I didn’t it probably would be understood that my response was emotional. This would be a base, human response. I’ve always thought that the government should be in the business of negating the base responses of it’s people. The government does this all the time – for example, most people would rather not pay taxes (base human response), but the government collects them anyway. I want my leaders to be rational; doing the right thing even if it is opposed to the popular thing.
  • There are all sorts of arguments about the fairness of the death penalty and to me it boils down to this: if there is any subjectivity involved then there is always going to be room for bias. The only way to get rid of that bias is to give everyone that commits murder the death penalty – no 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degrees – just death. No death penalty for the scary black man and then 20 to life for the cute mom who just had a bad day – death for both. That would make it fair wouldn’t it?
  • The justice system is inherently unjust. If you have the money to do so, you can make all sorts of charges disappear including murder. O.J. Simpson did. Claus Von Bulow too. Money buys the best defense and without money you get what you pay for.
  • People make mistakes. I’ve made them, you’ve made them, but most importantly prosecutors, police, lawyers, and witnesses make them. The Innocence Project has successfully had 164 prisoners exonerated most often because of mistaken identity. And with the justice system loathe to admit mistakes, I am 100% certain that there have been innocent men and women executed. With the sometimes sad history of the justice system in this country – the fact that we continue to use a penalty for which there is no turning back from is amazing.

It’s a shame that our country aims to be a beacon to the rest of the world but can be so far outside the accepted practices of a civilized society. We argue against China’s human rights abuses. Invade Iraq to remove a rogue dictator from leadership. But when it comes to our own policies we don’t have the strength or guts to end the unjustness of the 19th century system we employ.