The Death Penalty

The recent conviction of the Aurora Theater shootings, James Holmes, has brought up the issue of capital punishment again here in Colorado. (Note: this article was started  before Mr. Holmes was sentenced to several life terms and not execution).

I am not a vengeful man. I do get angry and I do feel hatred, and I direct them at those who have wronged me and whom I believe deserve it for that reason, but I don’t believe in revenge. Definitely not at the societal level.

I am, however, pro death penalty.

The death penalty is not punishment. Punishment is used to instruct those who receive it, in response to their own bad behavior, in order to condition or train them, hopefully with a healthy dose of positive reinforcement to reward them for good behavior. As far as execution is concerned, there is hardly anything the resulting corpse can have learned from the process, so it serves no purpose as punishment.

But I am still for the death penalty, just as I am for shooting a rabid dog in my neighborhood if one is on the rampage– there is no other cure for the malady capital crime inflicts on society.

I don’t enjoy or celebrate the practice, any more than I would cheer putting down a sick animal. The state should never participate in vengeful bloodthirstiness. Further death does not serve the victims, it’s even sad that it had to come to this: the elimination of a creature we had thought was human, but failed humanity and therefore had to be “put down.”

If you enjoy the death penalty; if you pump your fist in the air and say “yeah, we got him” when someone is executed, you are sick. Seek help. This is not a football game– it’s someone dying at the hands of every person in our society, and it is sad that it is necessary. Find your kicks elsewhere, there are none here for any rational person.

My youngest son Josh once asked me if there were monsters. I told him that yes there were, but they looked like people. Those deserving of capital punishment demonstrate sufficient monstrosity to no longer qualify as human. Something in them is so fundamentally broken that there is, as yet, no cure for them, nothing that can make them human.

To me, capital punishment is a shameful, but necessary elimination of a problem. How do we dispose of a person who, through their willful commission of a severely heinous crime, have proven themselves no longer human? Should we lock them up for the rest of their lived? Is that a kindness or in actuality more cruel?

By a life sentence, we are admitting the person is irredeemable with no chance of absolution. Should we lock such a person in a cage and, furthermore, bear the cost of keeping such a person alive?

Someone who deserves capital punishment must be convicted of a crime no human being would commit. The burden of proof must be overwhelming.

Regardless of my support for the death penalty, we must be extremely careful in dispensing it. Too many people whom were likely innocent have been claimed by it. So many that Illinois no longer applies it. Certainly in Texas where many people (I’m talking about you, Rick Perry) revel joyfully in executions as though they are something to be celebrated and where more are carried out than in any other state there must have been innocent victims of the practice. For a person to be put down in such a manner, there must be no doubt that

James Holmes did not receive the death penalty. I had hoped he would. He is guilty of a terrible crime and has thereby proved his unfitness as a human being. There is no place left for him among humanity; so we will throw him into the refuse pile that is our correctional system “forever.” I see no benefit in his languishing in a cell for him or us.

Long years in prison with no chance of release won’t teach him anything, at least not so that he can be released and practice any lessons he’s learned. In fact, if you are into cruelty, maybe you should glad he didn’t get the death penalty.

Would I have celebrated or cheered had he been executed? No. I would have mourned his passing instead– his death would have been a sad but necessary waste of someone who could have been human; but was instead broken. Now he will be placed on a shelf like a malfunctioning appliance, never to be repaired– just stored.

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