Saturday, 24 September 2011

Some Thoughts About Capital Punishment

The moral cost of violent crime in our society is not an issue most of us like to dwell upon. It's something whose implications are so vast, they beggar the imagination. Have we become for instance, far too libertarian in our tolerance of what constitutes criminal behaviour? Or have we instead, become too religious,  quoting the New Testament to illustrate the  the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, which leaves us trapped in a strait-jacket of sanctimony?  Or are we becoming more blood thirsty, still plotting for revenge when we think we've been wronged, and how does this satisfy our  desire for justice, when  revenge is (supposedly) nothing more than a primitive urge going back to the Dark Ages? None of this sits easily with the image we have of ourselves as brain centred humans who do not let our emotions rule our decisions -- when in fact that is exactly what does happen, in defiance of  our rationalisations to the contrary.

It seems to be that the nuts and bolts of a particular crime, or the crimes of a particular criminal, is what keeps the justice system chugging along. I can't say that has ever interested me. I was going to write a post for this blog about the Shark Arm murder case, one the most famous murder cases in Australian history. But just regurgitating the whats and wherefores  of the story because I didn't know enough about it to say anything original, was boring to me so I decided to abandon the idea. God knows I've read enough about it now to take some kind of diploma about the subject. The problem was, I just didn't know what I could say about it that hasn't been said a thousand times before.

I'm leading up to something and I think that it's to do with what's been recently happening in the States. A possibly innocent man by the name of Troy Davis was executed in Georgia, and there was a lot of news about it. Many people protested and despite a stay of execution, the Supreme Court ordered Georgia to go ahead with the execution. I didn't know enough about the case to make much comment but  my heart went out to the family of the victim, as well to as the family of Mr Davis. We all know of the figures which tell us the likelihood of  African Americans becoming trapped in the web of the American criminal justice system, and I would be nothing more than an insensitive (white)  fool to dispute them. But to me, the issue of capital punishment cuts across all racial boundaries.

As far as I am concerned,  the practice of capital punishment is nothing more than state-sanctioned murder, and to take  a principled stand on the issue of capital punishment  means  that the guilt or innocence of the person sentenced to death is irrelevant. Since sentencing someone to die is a legal aberration, the relevance of the guilt or innocence of the person will be a matter for the courts and the defence lawyers who advise the person of their legal rights. Like British transportation to New South Wales  in the nineteenth century (which was a sentence of death commuted to life imprisonment to the Australian penal colony for the term of one's natural life), capital punishment is an irrational form of revenge used more as a means of social control and less as a deterrent for the lower classes it was once thought were more prone to violent crime and anti-social behaviour.

Personally, I think that if people keep up the struggle, and protest loudly and vehemently enough for the powers-that-be to take notice, capital punishment will become too unpopular, and thus a thing of the past. If you believe in progress, then the only direction we have is ahead. We'll be living in a time when we can look back and blame our precursors for visiting this wretched stain upon our social fabric, and praising ourselves on our intelligence and bravery for having done away with it altogether.

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