The horror show of an execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett has renewed debate over the death penalty, and with it the familiar arguments for and against it. On Wednesday, The Daily Banter's Bob Cesca made an excellent case for ending the death penalty, while ably expressing the ambivalence that makes public opinion on the matter so stubbornly immune to that case. Like Bob, many find it difficult to move past the "fuck that guy" stage of grief for Clayton Lockett, myself included. Bob wisely started his piece off with a description of Lockett's crime, which frames his execution in a satisfying irony, worthy of Poe. Seriously, fuck that guy.
Now, as Bob pointed out, there's a recent study that shows what any logical person already knows, and which other studies have shown too: we are executing innocent people. The current rate is pegged at at least one in 25. If that fact can't get people to budge off of their support for the death penalty, then what else is there? How do 60 percent of human beings reduce the innocent deaths of their fellows to the moral equivalent of the acceptable limit of insect parts in peanut butter? Are we monsters?
Some of that is denial, some of it is likely the rationale that we can continue to execute people if we can just restrict it to people who are really, indisputably guilty (as if that's not already the standard we pretend to use), but that's not all of it. You can pile up every reason to end the death penalty, the lack of deterrence, the expense, the moral ill, even the occasional cruel and unusual fuck-up, and what are we holding onto? How do 60 percent of us just ignore all of that shit?
It is vengeance, pure and simple, and it's a human impulse that none of us are above. On a human level, I have no problem with it. If you want to avenge a horrible murder, you go track the guy down, do your thing, make peace with your higher power, and take your chances with the cops, the judge, the jury, and your own certainty. You carry that weight, you face the consequences. Those consequences, along with (and which include) the ideals of our civilization, seem to be doing a pretty effective job at keeping righteous revenge killings to a minimum. Individually, we see it as wrong enough, or risky enough, not to do it, even if we want to.
The absolutist argument against the death penalty often sounds like "killing is wrong," but that's actually not true, killing isn't always wrong. Individually, we have established standards under which it is legal to kill someone, standards which, themselves, are subject to significant controversy. Those standards do not include the premeditated killing of a person, who poses no immediate threat, because that person deserves it. That kind of killing is wrong. What's more, it is an irrevocable wrong, meted out to punish an irrevocable wrong.
Let me introduce you to my friend Les Kinsolving, columnist and White House Correspondent for World Net Daily. He is an endlessly fascinating character who holds many of the views you would expect a columnist for World Net Daily to hold. As little as there is that I agree with Les about, though, his view of the death penalty is one which I have never seen articulated nearly as well he did in a 2010 interview with me at the White House. It was part of a much longer interview that was published in several parts, but this clip, I have just discovered, was never posted. Here is Les Kinsolving, birther and conservative gadfly, explaining why the death penalty is wrong better than I ever could:
I would add only one thing to Les' explanation, because there will be some who are unmoved by the spiritual current that informs it. Some proponents of the death penalty may feel a righteous entitlement to justice, while others may feel untethered by beliefs they don't hold. The scriptural quote "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord" is the cliche rejoinder of death penalty opponents, but I'm perfectly willing to concede that vengeance is yours. If you're willing to carry the weight, I only ask that you go and do it yourself.