Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Abolishing the Death Penalty

The Huffington Post published an article by the Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Diann Rust-Tierney.

There are too many instances of innocent men and women being sentenced to death, of people of color, both defendants and victims, being treated more harshly, and dealt with as if they were expendable.

This is why New Jersey abolished the death penalty in 2007, and why we fully expect other states will follow.

Americans would be appalled to discover how much of their tax dollars support the flawed, ineffective death penalty system. For example, it costs Florida $51 million a year to enforce the death penalty above what it would cost to sentence first degree murderers to life in prison without parole.

I'm a big fan of hers. I subscribe to her organization's newsletter. But I believe she has it wrong. The reason we oppose the death penalty is because it's morally wrong, period. It's true that innocents may have been executed and that blacks and hispanics fare worse than whites in the system and that it's tremendously expensive to manage, but those are not the reasons we oppose it. We oppose it because it's morally and ethically wrong.

Of course, these side benefits of abolition could be persuasive where ethics and morals are not, in which case, I wouldn't want to quibble. But I think in any discussion of the death penalty we should be careful not to overlook the major reason for abolition.

What's your opinion? Do you think Ms. Rust-Tierney would still oppose capital punishment if no innocents were ever convicted and if no discrimination ever existed and if it were cost effective? I think yes. She would.

What do you think?


  1. "Americans would be appalled to discover how much of their tax dollars support the flawed, ineffective death penalty system."

    Yep, my thoughts exactly. Either up the efficiency of the system so it can actually do some good....or ban it entirely.

    You know what side of it I stand on.

  2. Just make it more efficient, my thought exactly.

  3. Looks like we're all in agreement, then!

    To Quote Ron White: "Most places are trying to ban the death penalty, Texas is putting in an express lane!"

    Sadly even Texas does a poor job at swift due process of justice, and people still languish for decades on death row.

  4. I'm with you, Mike. This has long been my beef with the innocence-focused part of the abolition movement. Yes, many of them are innocent or far less culpable than others. And, yes, many of them are where they are based on race (theirs or the victims). And that's all bad.

    But even if they are all 100%, undeniably guilty, I still don't think we should kill them! It's just wrong to take part in the premeditated, intentional killing of another person. I understand that the innocence, efficiency, and fairness issues have more persuasive power to those who do believe the death penalty is morally acceptable, but we have to be careful not to allow ourselves to be pulled into a position where we argue only about the mechanics of the dp.

  5. Thanks Sarah for showing the other commenters that we're not "all in agreement." You and I are. I can't believe with what callousness many folks talk about capital punishment. I've been asked by them, what if it were one of my loved ones raped and killed. I honestly think I'd feel the same about State Sanctioned Killing. If anything I might consider or fantasize about personal revenge, I admit that. But I ask them, what if one of their sons got into drugs and did a terrible crime and was sentenced to death? Would they be so callous then?

  6. Mike,

    I just noticed that you have two standards about this issue.

    On your top post for today (11/26) you talk about Lillo being involved in an "errand" and how it is a waste of talent but in the comment you talk about a terrible crime if it is one of our loved ones. Why the difference?

    To answer your question, yes I would feel the same way. My loved ones know right from wrong and I would support them facing the consequences of their actions. Cold, maybe but society can't function any other way.

    It is not cold or callous, it is a reasoned, logical, even passionate point of view that there are some crimes so heinous, so vile that the only appropriate consequence is for that person to be killed.

    You and I will never agree on this issue but it is a good debate

  7. indeed we won't ever all of us agree here. i doubt if we'll ever come to agree on what the points of disagreement are, even!

    i'll agree with Mike and S that the death penalty is wrong, and i'll agree with Bob that some people --- indeed, lots and lots of people --- thoroughly deserve to die. i simply, as i've stated before, don't think that they deserve it is a good enough reason for us to give it to them.

    it's not just about what a convicted criminal might, in some perfectly fair and just world, have coming to them. it's also about the rest of us, who would have to face dealing it out. "this would be good if it were done" is not the same as "it would be good for me (or ``someone'') to do this".

    and besides, if we are to have a death penalty, we need to have executioners; if we are to have executioners, i might end up being one --- and nobody would want me to have such powers. i know my own dark side too well for that.

  8. "lots and lots of people --- thoroughly deserve to die. i simply, as i've stated before, don't think that they deserve it is a good enough reason for us to give it to them."

    A very powerful statment. I don't agree with it, but damn, I don't think I could respect it any more.

    I've made the very bold statement that Mike is WRONG in his stance on the gun control issue.

    I definetly feel that I can make no suc bold statements here. It is a VERY difficult issue, and because of how it is performed in this nation, and nations similar to ours culturally, I don't think any of the data collected in how it corrilates to society as a whole is usable.

    Hence why I'm not adverse to abolishing it in the United States. How it is carrie out now is not effective or useful. I feel there are ways to make it as such, but those are pure grounds of speculation.