Thursday, September 22, 2011

Robert Scheer on Troy Davis's Execution: Ending Pursuit of Justice Rather Than Advancing It

Commenting on the state of Georgia's execution of Troy Davis yesterday, Robert Scheer writes,

Execution is a means of summarily ending the pursuit of justice rather than advancing it.

As he notes when he frames this argument, putting a person to death through capital punishment ends the need to weigh right or wrong, to determine if the evidence in a particular case warranted the death penalty.  There is a finality about state-sanctioned killing of someone following legal deliberation--a finality that implicates all of us.  

It implicates all of us, because the killing is done in our name.  It is supported by tax dollars we all donate.  The machinery by which someone is brought to the death chamber is bought and paid for by my tax-donated money.

And the state-sanctioned killing of someone implicates all of us because it ends, for all of us, the need to understand, to weigh pros and cons, to sift evidence.  The person about whom we're deliberating is there one moment.  And he or she is gone the next.

Never to return.

The practice of capital punishment makes all of us in societies that maintain this barbaric practice morally stupid, I'm convinced.  It allows us to dispense ourselves from the hard challenges of careful moral reasoning about much of anything at all.

It allows us to believe, astonishingly and with tremendously dangerous consequences, that we are innocent and it is always someone else--someone out there with the imaginary demonic face du jour--who is the bearer of (our) guilt.  The practice of capital punishment allows those who live in societies relying on death as the answer to problems of guilt and innocence to rely on childish, simplistic, binary notions of right and wrong that never really arrive at the heart of complex moral questions of any kind at all.

Donne was right: the death of anyone diminishes all of us.  And for those of us living in societies reveling in death, via the use of capital punishment, it diminishes us in ways we have hardly yet begun to understand.  It dehumanizes us far more than any crime committed by a person put to death by the state can ever do.

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