Defenders of the death penalty like to claim that it is not about vengeance, but about justice. I completely disagree. The death penalty is wholly and fully about vengeance. Our most base instincts feed its existence. It is the ultimate comeuppance.
Death penalty defenders maintain that it removes criminals from society so that they cannot commit crimes again. Sure, life in prison can do that, but there is no visceral satisfaction in locking someone up, even for life. An ideal closure only comes from taking someone’s life for having committed a heinous crime.
I never understood just what constitutes a capital crime. Why are some crimes worse than others? In my way of thinking, if you’re going to have a death penalty, than it should be absolute. If you kill someone, no matter how many, no matter in what fashion, then you get killed by the state as punishment. I also think that death penalties should be televised. If you’re gonna do it, do it in the open. Don’t be coy about it.
There’s a reason that they aren’t. Because televised executions would expose state sponsored killing as the blood sport that it is. Many would harbor revulsion at such a thing as a televised killing, but many would get off on it. I could even see people gathering and holding DP parties, replete with beer and chips. Televised executions would strip away the tenuous veneer of respectability the state tries to maintain around capital punishment. We would look no better than the ancient Romans.
The large majority of today’s executions are carried out with lethal injections, typically in a three drug cocktail, each administered one at a time. The first is suppose to render the condemned unconscious. But what if it doesn’t? Then you get spectacles like what happened in Oklahoma, were Clayton Lockett grimaced in pain for nearly an hour before finally dying of a heart attack. The first drug didn’t work as planned, and he died a gruesome, prolonged death.
I don’t have to scan chat rooms to know that some folks out there are probably like, “So what? He was a criminal and he deserved it.” Such thoughts are rarely vocalized by government officials, but they rest just under the tongue of many. We dehumanize criminals, treat them as aberrations, rather than as part of the human condition. The truth is often more complicated. But when you dehumanize someone, then it becomes much easier to do with that person what you will, including killing them in the name of state security.
Things get more complicated still when you consider that innocent people have been or were almost put to death. Many of the wrongly condemned all too often belong to a group of otherwise loathed and dehumanized “others,” a minority group, the mentally disabled, and so forth.
It’s getting harder to kill people, which is why Mr. Lockett received the execution he did. It took Oklahoma days to find drugs with which to kill him. Supplies are low, partly because of a European-led boycott. But also, more and more medical professionals are refusing on moral grounds to participate in executions. So untrained, unskilled prison personnel have to do the deed, sometimes with disastrous outcomes.
The correct way to kill? There is no correct way to kill. There is no correct way to humanize a process that is by definition inhuman. We don’t lower ourselves to the level of the killers we loathe to get rid of them. That’s base behavior. To achieve a better society, we need to strive much higher than that. A great many nations do just fine without a death penalty. It’s long overdue for the US to join their ranks.
© 2014, gar. All rights reserved.