Log in

No account? Create an account

Look Back | Look Forward

A man has gone to meet his maker.

John Allen Muhammad was executed tonight for the deaths of 10 people, bringing once again to the front of the nation's consciousness (at least until tomorrow's headlines appear) the debate over capital punishment.

Truly, there are no easy answers.

This issue has been argued back and forth in courts of law and the court of public opinion since the dawn of man. The pendulum has swung both ways during my own lifetime, and there is not a glimmering of consensus on the horizon.

I have no answers here, but since this is where I record my thoughts I felt I ought to put some down before life once again crowds the issue back to the lumber room.

Holy Writ is no help. The Bible and the Book of Mormon are both replete with instances of retribution and forgiveness. A hundred fools and a hundred scholars together will come up with two hundred interpretations between them. Even modern revelation sheds no significant light on the question.

Secular sociology is no help. Conflicting studies discuss deterrence and lack of deterrence, the cost to society of execution vs. incarceration, rehabilitation vs. warehousing and the prices and benefits to victims and their families. There are debates about how best to honor and respect human life - by extinguishing one which has violated the sanctity thereof, or to punish by lifetime incarceration.

The Constitution and our justice system are no help, because the 6th and 8th amendments have been eviscerated by attorneys paid by the fraction of an hour, and because court dockets are choked beyond all hope of recovery.

Societies need rules, and rules must be enforced, if the rights of people are to be protected. Yet mercy cannot rob justice, nor justice mercy - taking both concepts to their illogical conclusions by reductio ad absurdem, either all malefactors would be forgiven and allowed to go free, or litterbugs and jaywalkers would be summarily burnt at the stake

There is no help for the widow's son. All I have left to go on is my heart, which tells me to look to people whom I admire for guidance on how to find peace for myself.

I look to Christ, who begged forgiveness for those who were in the very act of murdering him.

I look to Gandhi, who taught a tormented Hindu who had killed a Muslim boy to atone by taking another orphaned child and raise him... as a Muslim.

I look to Azim Khamisa, who saw in the murder of his 19-year-old son at the hands of a young gang member not one lost life but two, and who, together with the guardian of the shooter, went on to create a foundation that teaches grade school children how to avoid child-on-child violence. Two more unmatched people you could never hope to find - a Sufi Muslim investment banker, and a black, born-again ex-Green Beret, who from the ashes of tragedy have raised a phoenix of hope and blessing for the lives of thousands of young people.

In a very real sense, capital punishment is about revenge, and revenge is always a lose-lose proposition. My suspicion is that even for families of victims who ardently hope for the ultimate penalty, such penalty brings no true closure, and no true peace.

I feel better about working to improve our justice system so that punishment is swift and sure, yet leaving the ultimate destiny of a human life in the hands of Him who gave it. I hope that I would have the moral conviction to feel the same way if the question ever - God forbid - became an intimately personal one in my life. Only in this way can I hope to find peace for myself.

Support Wind Power



Nov. 11th, 2009 07:01 am (UTC)
I think the trap is that people think it is meant to be a deterrant. It isn't, and never has been. People that are so removed from society that they commit crimes don't think they will ever get caught (regardless of the penalty), or they think it is worth the penalty if they do get caught.

There is no clear answer I don't think. But it's good that people stop and think and discuss it. When people stop talking about things and accept them as they are without question - well, I find that more scary than any of the subjects in focus.

In regards to capital punishment, my own opinion is pretty solid (though as always I reserve the right to change my mind and my thinking at some point in the future). I do run the risk of being misinterpreted but what the heck...

My problem with capital punishment is if a mistake is made, there is no going back. There's no "oops, we messed up, here have some life back and some compesation money". It's too late. It's a horrific error that can never be corrected.

It is not a crime deterrent, for the previously stated reasons. But it IS a way of removing someone from society.

The only instance I would support capital punishment is if there is absolutely no doubt of guilt, and no chance of that person being rehabilitated.

Somewhere along the way the correctional system worldwide has lost its way. It should never be there for revenge. It must be for removing a threat from society. Justice should be blind, not waving pitchforks from gutter-media generated hype.

Prison should always be a two part approach; punishment and rehabilitation. Instead it's just punishment. In fact it's not even that. It's just a rug to sweep things under until their time is up.

Plenty of petty crims get caught, go into the big house, meet much harder and smarter crims and learn from their peers. They then exit the system with exactly the wrong knowledge and concept of society. It's no surprise these people then escalate their crimes.

Instead, there should be some system of separating out the ones that have hope from the ones that will never reintegrate. The ones that can be taught should be put into some sort of social re-education (yeah, fine, Re-Neducation). Most end up there due to socio-economic reasons such as poor or no family upbringing. What hope do they have in the current system? They are taught to hold their hand out and to take it if no-one puts it there for them.

In regards to capital punishment itself, I feel that the following questions needs to be asked:

Can they be re-habilitated?
Have they protested innocence?
Have they shown remorse?
Is the evidence flawed or suspect in any way?

Unless all of those can be answered "no", then capital punishment MUST not occur.

This is of course only my opinion. In regards to the person that departed today, from all I have read and understood of the case I shed no tear for him. It seems to me he met the criteria for permanent removal from society. In view of the fact they have given him the sleepy needle, I hope it is the case.

Nov. 11th, 2009 07:22 am (UTC)
Excellent commments and contribution to the discussion, you raised some good points that I had neglected.
Nov. 11th, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
I'm against capital punishment...
But not for the reason you may think. For example, I was very upset when Scott Peterson got the death sentence. For two reasons.

1. With the automatic appeals that MUST be filed in a capital case, it will cost the taxpayers MORE than simply incarcerating him for life.

And more importantly--2. It doesn't punish certain people enough. There are sociopaths in the world--Scott Peterson is one of them. Many people who kill lots of people--including probably John Allen Muhammad--are sociopaths. Sociopaths must be removed permanently from society for the safety of all.

Now, if you are a sociopath, you have NO empathy for others--you want to do what you want to do, and to hell with everyone else. Imagine what it would be like for one of these people to live a LONG life waking up every morning with the knowledge that he will spend his day being controlled by someone else. I can't think of any way to better punish them. The death penalty is shorter and more dramatic, which I think suits them. I'd rather just put them away.
Nov. 11th, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm against capital punishment...
These are two cogent propositions which I did not have time to include in my own ruminations. Combined with the "oops" factor mentioned by Secoh above - specifically, that capital punishment has no "Undo" key - they argue strongly for instances where long-term incarceration is the more suitable option. Thank you for sharing your input.
Nov. 11th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm against capital punishment...
But is not punishment without the chance of redemtion merely torture? A sociopath will not learn and change his behavior from punishment, so wouldn't it make sociopaths of us for wanting to cause suffering to someone that can never benefit from the lesson?

I am against the death penalty but It worries me when revenge and punishment are used interchangably.

My thoughts :)
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)
"Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights is worthy of all else from you. "

For all of the reasons above, yours, Secoh's, Fitchwitch's and the unmovable belief that all life is sacred - no child, no person, no dog, no thing, is BORN evil, that we, collectively as a society, bear some of the burden of what this person has become - it is easy to judge the end result; not so easy to judge how did it come to this.

And the moral conundrums you touch on. How can we as a a collective whole say as an absolute "killing is wrong" ... and then say "oh accept when we say killing is right"? He to whom God, the Universe, the Force, or the Life Spirit - or what ever you chose to call it - gives life, who are we to take it away? Yes, every life is sacred. Life has an inherent value all its own, that it exists is sufficient.

Yeah - I could go on for a long time, about Social Role Valorization Theory and a mulititude of other thoughts, but I tend to get a bit preachy so I won't :)

Highly recommended reading: Dead Man Walking

PS No Bad Dogs, is also an interesting read - it might seem a bit far removed from the subject, but ... not so far as one might think.

Edited at 2009-11-11 05:49 pm (UTC)
Nov. 11th, 2009 06:15 pm (UTC)

Edited at 2009-11-11 06:16 pm (UTC)
Nov. 11th, 2009 07:18 pm (UTC)
I think that any punishment should be used for rehabilitation and/or deterrence. Trying to establish a balance in the name of justice is a battle that the world lost prehistorically. Only the Next World can arrange the balance in full, God willing.

But is God willing? I thought the whole point of the Sacrifice was to rob justice for mercy.
Nov. 11th, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
A valid comment. My understanding is that there are those who will willfully and with full comprehension refuse the intercession that is offered them, and it is these who will suffer for their own transgressions, as though there had been no atonement made.

All of us will have to wait to find out, though.


The Old Wolf

Latest Month

March 2018


Powered by LiveJournal.com