Saturday, May 16, 2015

Today's MOZEN: A Meditation of the Death Penalty

Words by F LoBuono
Joseph Heller's created the term Catch-22 for his seminal anti-war novel of the same name. In it, the main character, B-17 bombardier John Yossarian, is constantly thwarted in his efforts to be relieved of his duty of flying combat missions by the circular logic that Heller refers to as Catch-22. Heller draws from his own experiences in WWII to create a world where death is the only avenue of escape for these aviators. Yossarian finds it completely insane to be forced to fly to ones death. Therefore, he applies for a medical discharge on the basis of his insanity. However, the Army psychologist explains to him that, yes, it is indeed insane to be forced to fly to ones death. So, he can't be insane and cannot be discharged on those grounds - circular logic.

I believe that the same form of contorted thinking can be applied to the death penalty debate. I find it difficult to justify the State taking a life as punishment for a person taking another life. Recently, the debate has once more come into focus when the death sentence was imposed on Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. In a well publicized trial, the lawyers for Mr. Tsarnaev never questioned his quilt. Instead, they hoped to convince the jury to spare his life (it was a Federal case that carried the death penalty option) on the grounds that he was unduly influenced by his older brother who had masterminded the entire attack. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed by police when the two tried to escape capture. However, citing the younger Tsarnaev's apparent lack of remorse during the trial, the jury choose the maximum penalty - death by lethal injection.

There are those who will say that he got his just deserts. After the verdict, one victim of the attack was quoted as saying, "he wanted to go to hell. Now, he'll just get there quicker". It's easy to see this young man as a "monster". The carnage he unleashed was unspeakable. The youngest victim of the bombing suffered terribly before he died. Many were left permanently scared, physically and mentally. Absolutely nothing good came from this tragedy. Nothing. So, why not just get rid of him? Well, we must think of the consequences of the message we send when we execute someone. And, here is were the Catch-22 really kicks in. Morally, we judge killing to be wrong - on all levels. One of the Ten Commandments says "Thou Shall Not Kill". Our American Declaration of Independence declares that we have the "Unalienable rights of LIFE, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness". The message is clear - we have a RIGHT to LIFE and it is unalienable, meaning that no person OR entity has the right to deprive us of this right. This includes (or should) the government.

Now, this does not mean there is NO punishment for such a heinous crime. There must be consequences to action. There must be justice. However, how do we define justice? Does taking a life for taking a life seem just? Is an eye for an eye the way to achieve it? Or, does it just leave the whole world blind? Evidence shows that executing criminals does not act as a deterrent, so we gain nothing there. Furthermore, recent improvements in DNA testing has exonerated many death row inmates. A recent study by the University of Michigan estimated that at least 4% of death row inmates are innocent. Now, that may not sound like a huge number, but tell that to one of the 4% (it's hundreds of people)! Plus, the system tends to punish minorities at a highly inflated rate.  To me, all the death penalty seems to do is ease the minds of angry people who are more bent on revenge than justice. Everyone loses. Everyone.

Yes, there is evil in the world, much of it shocking. It must be contained. However, if we execute people are we really doing that or are we actually adding to it? I believe that evil needs to be fed and will acccept nourishment from where ever it can get. Don't we just contribute to that insatiable appetite when we feed it MORE human beings? Someone must break the circle of violence and this is one way to do it. We can show transcendence in our mercy, even when the recipient of that mercy seems so unworthy. But, that's what transcendence means - to go beyond the expected. You just can't justify killing with more killing. A life sentence without the possibility of parole is a fitting punishment. If you have taken the freedom of another by taking their life, then you must forfeit your own freedom - forever. The message sent is a powerful one: taking a life, any life at any time, by ANYONE is just plain wrong.

1 comment:

  1. We will create another martyr here. He becomes another poster boy for the recruitment of our enemies.