Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Death Penalty: When Will the Violence Cease?

Yesterday’s execution of John Allen Muhammad, the so-called D.C. Sniper, sparked a series of debates all across the country. It reminded me of the week when Stanley “Tookie” Williams II was expected to be executed here in California. I was in my first year of college at the time, and the debate raged on well into our classrooms. Our English professor, whose focus in the class involved argumentative writing, asked us to compose a paragraph or two, taking a pro- or anti- stance on the topic. I was surprised to find that I was one of the few students who argued against the death penalty.

Some classmates thought that I was opposed to the execution because I admired and romanticized gang leaders or some such nonsense. Ridiculous! My position at the time was that Tookie had the potential to accomplish positive things behind prison bars, namely to continue to writing. During his time in jail, Tookie wrote several anti-gang, anti-drug and anti-violence books for the youth (reading ages ranging from four to twelve years old). The fact that Tookie had transformed himself into an advocate and positive role model for urban youth had merited, in my opinion, that he be given a pardon by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – but no dice. On December 12, 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger denied Williams’ clemency; the next day, Williams was executed. I sensed that some of my classmates had drawn some satisfaction from the incident; I couldn’t look at them the same way anymore.

In the years since, I’ve affirmed my position on the matter of capital punishment and the death penalty: I’m against it, one hundred percent of the time. People have tried to sway me from this stance with suppositions like “What if you were transplanted to the 1940’s and held a gun to the head of Hitler or Mussolini, men who have committed unspeakable atrocities? Would you pull the trigger?” This certainly raises some devil’s advocate thought processing, but the analogy is not equivalent to the discussion about the death penalty. Hitler and Mussolini were army leaders; and like the old saying goes, “all’s fair in love and war”; I don’t necessarily agree with that statement, but you get the point. Individuals like John Allen Muhammad and Stanley Tookie Williams II, while displaying traits of the inherently evil human characteristics shared by killers like Hitler and Mussolini, have been placed into custody by law enforcement and treated with the same levels of decency we’d expect prisoners of war to receive – or so we hope. Except this isn’t war and these aren’t soldiers. These are civilians who have erred in life and require penitence and rehabilitation. In many regards, the choice between keeping life-sentenced prisoners alive or executing them is analogous to the choice between recycling and garbage disposal.

In Los Angeles, the city I call home, pedestrians are an endangered species. It’s rare to find people walking down the street unless you’re in a trendy section of town. Accordingly, there also aren’t too many garbage cans or recycle bins on the street – they’re certainly more scarce than the ones you’ll find in sprawling metropolises like New York City. On many occasions, I’ve found myself walking along the street, scanning the horizon for a place to dispose of an empty soda can or a store receipt. Most of the time I have to walk at least two or three blocks before finding a garbage bin; coming across the elusive recycle bin is like encountering an oasis – unless you’re in West Hollywood or Santa Monica (hippie-ish neighborhoods). Why do I bother to make this extra effort? At the very core of the matter, I think conservation is important; overall, I ideally believe that ethics of reciprocity (i.e. the “Golden Rule”) are not limited to interpersonal interaction: it can apply to our relationship with our own individual environment and the environment of others as well. A little bit of effort preserves cleanliness and order – it’s not too much to ask. I don’t think this is such a radical position, do you? Using the same train of thought, re-analyzing capital punishment concludes that the death penalty is ineffective, counterintuitive, harmful and simply wrong for society.

As I see it, there are two options: we can either “recycle” life-sentenced prisoners or “dispose” of them with one swift kick into the gutter. I choose the former. Trash piles up and so do dead bodies. Even after they’ve been re-absorbed as terrestrial elements, the names and memories of those individuals “put down” by our justice system remain. And just like that, the cycle of violence repeats itself once more as a new stable of lifers are prepped to be taken out one by one. What does this accomplish? Various studies have shown that capital punishment does little if nothing to dissuade criminal behavior, and in many cases is counterintuitive to this very purpose. Additionally, while it may serve the purpose as a visceral sense of revenge, the death penalty will never fully wipe away the blood, scars and tears of murder or rape.

Abolishing the death penalty sets a standard by which you aim to uphold and value the preciousness of life. The question you need to ask yourself is this: How can a society which is so willful in applying the death penalty to prisoners right and left hope to attain everlasting peace and moral prosperity? The cycle of violence continues… Tupac Shakur spoke frequently about incarceration and death row in his raps. In closing, here is a portion of ‘Pac’s words which I feel are in accordance with my overarching positions on crime and punishment:
Let the L-rd judge the criminals/
If I die, I wonder if heaven got a ghetto/
- “I Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto”
I got beef with a sick society that doesn't give a shit/
And they’re too quick to say goodbye to me/
- “16 on Death Row”


  1. Awesome Read and i agree with you a hundered percent

  2. The death penalty doesn't bring the victims back or change what happened for those 23 days John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo terrorized the D.C. Metro area. Death penalty doesn't solve anything.

    With that said....this man doesn't deserve to breath the same air as us. I was working in this area when all this was happening and it froze the daily comings and goings of this area. People were ducking getting gas, the schools were locked down, and an overall fear of the unknown. This man (along with Lee Malvo) put fear in close to a million people and held everyone hostage (so to speak) for over 3 weeks. This man had little to no remorse for his actions (IMO) and was thumbing his nose at the legal system.

    This coward (or Malvo) shot a 13 year old kid at a school in Bowie Maryland. Why? I don't know. From what I know of the case he hasn't done anything to right his wrongs such as Tookie was attempting to do.

    He is not the "so-called D.C. Sniper," but is the sniper who was shooting helpless people from the back of his car. He shot a man cutting the grass....I could go on.

    I'm glad he is terrible as that may sound. Just living through this stuff...I have no sympathy for this man.

  3. Thomas: I'm not refuting your points because they're all valid. But I'm expressing my own thoughts. To say that he doesn't deserve the same air as us is a very inhumane angle to be taking.

    I wrote "so-called D.C. Sniper" because I was pointing the finger at the media which always finds a way to pinpoint one individual, give 'em a spooky title and create social unrest. I'm not defending what Muhammad OR Malvo did at all. When you bring up all the horrible things that they did, that only brings out the visceral bloodlust for revenge that is common is man's nature. But after all that, you can still go back to the second sentence you wrote: "Death penalty doesn't solve anything". You can't run from that fact.

  4. It's all good Ivan. This topic is extremely touchy for me because I was in that area and just knew and felt the tension, unrest, and fear that many people (including myself) had during that time. The information we were receiving was wrong despite the efforts from all law enforcement and what John/Malvo were doing was just random. I'm just glad they started making contact with law enforcement/media because I don't think they would have been caught. Everybody was looking for white male(s) in a white boxed truck.

    "Death penalty doesn't solve anything" right...can't run from that fact, however, I believe it will bring some closure for some of the victims (not that I've spoken to any of them) that the mastermind behind these horrible acts is not here any longer. The only reason Malvo is not suffering the same fate as Muhammad is he was a juvenile at the time of the crimes. Even though he was charged appropriately as an adult I don't believe there is anything on the law books for juveniles to be put to death.

    Ok, I get your point about "so-caled D.C. Sniper." Names are always attached to stories to make them identifiable.

    Again, Ivan I know these are your thoughts and I respect those....just commenting on a good post.

    I work with children and have my own children. When horrible things happen to kids it touches something off in me. I still stand by my statement that he didn't deserve the same air. He shot a little kid either going into school or coming out of school...actually I think it was Malvo (I'll have to look it up...can't remember) regardless that is a coward. In this situation I'm going to be inhumane because children/elder are the most vulnerable in our society and shooting that kids was just that (along with the others).

    Just my thoughts.

  5. Okay, so then here's my refute to that point about children: Suppose a mad men waves a gun in a crowded area and shoots a whole bunch of people. By your reasoning, if one of those bullets hits a kid or elderly person, then the shooter deserves the death penalty; but if all of the bullets hit middle-aged people, he deserves life in prison? In the grand scheme of things, it's just a matter of circumstance that the innocent child or elderly person caught the stray instead of the 30 or 40-something year old. Why should there be such a huge difference in punishment based on this detailed albeit horrendous nuance?

  6. Ivan,

    Much respect for your well thought out position on this issue.. It's a tough one for me because I feel there are some instances (the DC case, David Koresh, Manson etc.) where these people are never going to repent, never going to make up for the terrible things they have done.. There are certain cases were a person is so INHUMAN in their deeds that they should not be allowed to live.. These people were and are afforded every advantage of the American justice system including a fair trial.. Sometimes a person is so evil that locking them up for the rest of their lives is not enough..

    Plus, as a fiscal conservative I'm sure you can appriciate the federal and state savings by executing these monsters rather than having to provide them with food, clothing, shelter and security for half a century or more.. (jk.. kind of)

    Capital Punishment is not necessary..

    It is not NEEDED..

    In fact it is not a GOOD thing..

    But the fact is, it does provide a form of justice to the families of victims.. Thats what it is really about..

    I agree with your point in theory, but in practice I think that there are certain situations where the world is better off without some of these people..

    It's a tough call and you're probably not going to change anyone's mind on the subject, but I applaud your thoughts and ideas and encourage you to continue to make your voice heard..

  7. "An eye for an eye....".
    If the legal system puts someone to death, aren't they taking a life as well?
    Aren't we all human and deserve a chance to better ourselves? If we have committed a horrible crime than we have the chance to change ourselves for the better. It will never take back what is done but to simply demonize another person than we are not seeing the human in all of us.
    Besides, wouldn't having a person think about what they have done and live locked up for the rest of their lives be more of a punishment. We don't know what happens after death and this way at least we know that they are suffering.
    End the death penalty.

  8. Ahhh Ivan. I'm too tired right now to explain why your wrong, but I do find it ironic that a pro abortionist is now concerned with the, "preciousness of life."

  9. I don't recall EVER divulging my opinions on abortion. Prove me wrong, Sherlock.

  10. So your not pro-abortion? Prove me wrong.

  11. Abortion and the death penalty are two different situations... both have complications extending to different concerns and values and morals on life that can't really compare... Basing you're rebuttle on the fact that someone may or may not be Pro Abortionist is pretty irrelavent to this debate...

  12. No it's not. On one hand, your not allowed to kill someone who has been tried and convicted of killing innocent people. But then on the other hand your allowed to kill an innocent baby who hasn't even gotten the chance of life, just because it hasn't been born yet? Who is to say when life begins and when it doesn't? Life could begin when the seed hits the egg. My argument is that Ivan was right, human life is very precious, and we should treat it as such, in all parts of our society, abortion included. Jack, you said that they are completely different and that you can't compare them, but you didn't give a proper reason why you can't compare them. Please elaborate...

  13. I'm not trying to convice u of anything but you don't have facts to back up some of your statements and some of the statements you make are laughable and seems to make it seem you don't understand or value human life yourself although that seems to be the point of you not wanting the death penalty. 1st mistake is "erred at life." killing 23 people isn't erring at life. saying taking 2 dozens people's lives downplays those who died humanity. 2 is revenge. It isn't for revenge or bloodlust. it is for justice. u can't take someone's life without repercussions. People always want to act like killing a killer is the same as the killer killing innocent people. the people the sniper killed were innocent and the sniper isn't innocent. #3 is everlastin peace? How can we have everlasting peace if you have individuals in society who are going to kill regardless of a Death Penalty. You said that yourself when you say it isn't proven to deter killers from killing. 4th is religion. I don't know your religion and i'm not religious myself but a lot of folk believe that when you die that is your time to go. also you are born to die so you have to die sometime. mabye this was his time to go per the Lord and this is how it should be. There's a lot more to it than i write but this is the ultimate punishment and if you are of sound mind and body you have no excuse for killing innocent people. why does someone sane who does this deserve to live especially when we are born to die anyway. Those who perished don't get 2nd chances.

  14. Abortion is ''killing'' something with no logic to this earth whatsoever how can an embrio feel pain if it has no refference to what pain is?... Where as the death penalty is killing a human being with knowledge of pain and knows how to feel out emotions... Also like i said... The complications within the situation lies the difference... An innocent woman shouldn't be forced to ordeal a lifetime of mental pain... there's all sorts of pressures and anxietys and phsycological disorders that come with being forced to do carry something you dont want and the phsycal pain of actualy giving birth can also cause more strain, and it often leads to mental breakdowns/or other serious phsycological behaviours later in life after the baby has been given up... So thats why comparing the two seems rather dull considering the different moral and emotional affects they can have on lives...

  15. Jack, An embrio can't feel pain, but that isn't that point. The point is that the embrio is a human, and a human is a human, whether they can feel pain or not. Human life is SO precious and should not be taken for granted, or just killed because the mother doesn't want to take care of the child. Your basically justifying murder, if the way that, your saying she should be allowed to abort the baby because she will be stressed out by taking care of it. I dont care what anyone tells you, YOUR JUSTIFYING MURDER. What happened to people taking responsibilty for there actions? If you didn't want to have a child and deal with all the stress, anxitey, and resonsibilty of a child, then you should of used protection (Rape is a different story). I don't 100% agree with the death penalty but how can you even consider the feelings and emotions of a killer who was convicted and got sentenced to death, and then in the same sentence say it's alright to kill an unborn baby????

  16. Think of it this way, Jake:

    Which of the two would an environmentalist LEAST like to be chopped down: a 100+ year-old redwood tree or a sprout that rose from a seed that was just planted a week ago. Answer that (correctly) and you'll understand why equating abortion with the death penalty is a faulty comparison.

  17. NO Ivan! You can't compare killing a tree to killing a human being! You cannot justify killing a human being just because it's young. That human being deserves the same chance at life, that every other human being had. It SHOULD NOT be allowed to be killed because the mother or father doesn't want the stress of taking care of it. That is selfish, irresponsible, and un-humane. That child could grow up to be the greatest human being that ever lived. It's funny that you mentioned plants...

    "Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?
    Proving nature's law is wrong it learned to walk with out having feet.
    Funny it seems, but by keeping it's dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air.
    Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared."

  18. Also, What happened if the tree was shading all the other trees, not allowing them to have any sunlight, and thus killing them? Would you not cut down that tree? And also what justification would you have to cut down a baby sprout tree?

  19. An embryo is not a human just as a newly-planted seed is not a tree.