Saturday, December 10, 2005

Valuing Life

Having just read Professor McAdams' post about the upcoming execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, I felt the obligation to defend what he describes as the "attachment that liberal activists and Hollywood airheads have for [Mr. Williams]."

While I found the Boston Globe article he referenced interesting, (and indeed, disturbing by the details of violence in them), I felt that it was extremely one-sided, and did not take into account the positive things that Mr. Williams has done since his incarceration in 1981. This man has been on death row for 24 years. He has been in prison longer than I have been alive. In the time that Mr. Williams has been imprisoned, he has denounced his gang ties, and has worked to end gang violence.

I am not advocating that Mr. Williams is innocent of these crimes. What I am advocating is that he should be granted clemency. This would mean that he would be spared from the death penalty, but he would remain in prison for the rest of his life.

Professor McAdams writes that "Death penalty opponents claim that executing murderers somehow sends the message that killing is alright, since the state is killing. This sort of logic says that sending an army to invade Germany in World War II sent a message that invasions are alright. Of course, it sent exactly the opposite message."

I disagree. I don't think that death penalty opponents think that by using capital punishment, we send the message that killing is ok. It is for several reasons that I will outline that I believe capital punishment is wrong. These reasons are not a complete list, but merely touch on examples that I have encountered in my research.

As a death penalty opponent I have done extensive research and talked with several attorneys who have handled cases where capital punishment was at stake. Most of these people who work to ensure the justice of this country do not believe that the death penalty significantly deters criminals from committing a crime. Jeffrey Fagan, a professor at Columbia Law School testified before the New York State assembly with very compelling evidence that capital punishment has not been proven to deter crime.

There are other options besides death; a punishment of life without parole is just as a deterrant for crime as capital punishment. Studies have repeatedly shown that a life imprisonment is also less costly than using the death penalty because of the huge costs of appeals. For these reasons, I do not believe capital punishment ought to be administered.

I also believe that employing the use of capital punishment has moral implications. Professor McAdams says that "executing murderers sends exactly the right message about the value of human life." What message is this? Yes, we should recognize that there are victims of those who are currently on death row. Yes, their lives were valuable and yes, there ought to be a punishment for the crimes against them, but aren't the lives of those on death row also valuable? Stanley Tookie Williams has worked diligently to bring peace to America's gang ridden inner cities. Yes, he allegedly killed several people, but his life still has value, even in prison. By murdering these people (yes, murder is the cause of death when someone is killed through capital punishment. it is quite ironic) we send a vengeful message about the value of human life. Can someone explain to me how we value human life by killing? Yes, I understand that by executing someone it acts as a retribution for killing someone else, but that doesn't end the pain for a family who lost a loved one. The only message sent through executions is that this nation only values certain lives--the lives of those who are victims. Everyone has done something wrong in their lives, some more than others. We mere and fallible humans cannot reasonably make the determination of whose lives are valuable and whose are not. To me, every life is sacred. Every life has value. Criminals should be in prison, but they should be allowed to live and to contribute to society, even from behind bars.

I don't disagree that there are evil people in this world and that we must have a system in place to ensure the protection of citizens, but capital punishment does little to protect people. It does not detract from crime, it is costly, and to say that executions show that we value human life is the most oxymoronic thing I have heard in a long time. We must have a system of justice where criminals are prosecuted, but to kill someone to say that killing is wrong does not value life whatsoever.