There is no more heinous or morally indefensible crime than capital
punishment. Nor is there is any person, however monstrous, deserving of execution
at the hands of the state. We may never know the motives behind the actions
of many criminals, but we can fully grasp the culpability of the state. For
it is the state, through its legal machinations, that calmly premeditates the
murder of its own citizens.
How can this be considered punishment?
There is no corrective element, at all; just death and finality.
A society that is willing to intentionally kill one of its own people,
is a society that is willing to accept barbarism as it guiding principle. There's
no middle ground on capital punishment. When one offers their moral support
to the practice, they are participating directly in the ritual murder of another
Two days ago, Kenneth Boyd became the 1,000th prisoner to be put to death in
the US since the death penalty was reinstated 30 years ago. His final words
were, "God bless everyone in here." Thus, Boyd's death becomes little
more than a grim milestone of America's commitment to savagery over justice.
A recent Gallop poll indicates that 64% of Americans support the death penalty,
down from 80% in 1994. "But the figure of 64% falls to just 50% when the
alternative of life without parole is presented". ("US Turns against
Death Penalty, Andrew Buncombe)
For years, anti death penalty groups have disputed the evenhandedness of capital
punishment, which is overwhelming directed at the poor and people of color.
Now, with the widespread use of DNA, a growing number of murder convictions
have been overturned by new evidence. "There have also been 122 cases of
prisoners on death row being shown to be innocent". (Andrew Buncombe)
This has caused a shift in public attitudes towards capital punishment and
many people are becoming more sensitized to its inherent unfairness. I believe
that more people would reject the death penalty if the wording of polling questions
was simply changed to reflect the real meaning of their support. Staunch death
penalty advocates tend to rationalize their support in terms of the evil of
particularly shocking crime. They see it as an appropriate payback for bad behavior.
But, that, in fact, is not the question. The real question is whether
or not the state has the right to kill one of its own citizens. That is the
only question that should concern us.
Our model of state power is not simply based on what may or may not be fair
regarding the punishment for particular crimes. Rather, it is grounded on a
larger principle that protects the society at large from the abuses of state
power. If, for example, the question were raised in a survey "Does the
state have the right to kill one of its citizens", I believe we would find
the exact opposite result from the earlier poll. This reflects the innate suspicion
that people have of handing over too much power to government.
Again, the nature of the crime makes no difference; it is never within the
purview of the state to kill a citizen. Never. That definitive act turns the
whole system of representative government on its head. Our government is the
offspring of theories that emerged during the Enlightenment; that governments
are established as a compromise of one's right to absolute freedom to meet the
security needs of the individual. In exchange, the state becomes the guarantor
of human and civil rights. This is what we call the social contract.
This model exposes the true origins of the state and suggests the parameters
under which it may legitimately operate. And, although the state may be an expression
of the public will, it is never more than a crude invention to assure one's
safety in a potentially threatening environment. Such a device has no authority
beyond its limited powers to protect and provide for its people.
To allow the state the absolute power over life and death is to elevate
its significance above those it is created to serve. Capital punishment is a
form state worship; elevating the authority of government above the principles
that legitimize its existence. It is the "cart before the horse".
Whenever men are murdered by the state in the name of capital punishment; it
is the state that is glorified; it is the state that is deified; it is the state
that is victorious. And, it is the freedom of every individual that is sacrificed.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached