Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Death Penalty

It is a strange feeling, writing this whilst knowing that there are people out there who would like to see me killed. Nothing personal, I appreciate that, but still...
There are many things that I just don't understand about the death penalty. What I do understand, though, is the visceral urge on the part of some victims to destroy the criminal. When my sister was killed, I spent a long time devising ingenious ways of inflicting suffering on her killer. This, I think, is not unusual.
Of the things I don't understand, though, most are philosophical rather than practical.
For example, it is said that human life is so valuable that to extinguish it is the most heinous of crimes. Given the low value society attributes to human life in general, though, I doubt that proposition. Still, let's run with it.
Life is so precious that we should kill those who take it. Am I the only one who sees the conceptual knot in that reasoning?? Either life is sacred, or it isn't. If it is, how can we sanction State killing of criminals? I have never understood this. I honestly don't.
My other problem is that there are those victims who claim (in advance) that executing the Bad Man will make them feel better. Really? I worry about anyone who would take pleasure in the death of another human being. That is just the type of emotion that serial killers are said to have. Crowds who gather outside of prisons, clustering around hot dog stands and waving placards, are worrying. They show a delight in death that makes murderers blush.
The main source of emotional pain, surely, comes from the loss of the murdered victim and not the continued existence of the murderer? And there is no external act that can heal that wound. No matter how many people are hung, electrocuted or gassed, the loved one remains dead. So I have to wonder, does executing the murderer actually do anything for that pain? And in what way?
There is also the knotty problem that executing the murderer inflicts upon their family the very pain that the killer himself inflicted, and which is the reason for him being executed. Is it me, or is this all very convoluted and actually morally incomprehensible?
There were many moments when I would have happily seen my sisters killer executed, preferably by being dipped in acid whilst rats gnawed at extremities. The urge to lash out at those who hurt us is normal. It doesn't mean that these urges are allowed to be acted upon. I would never dream of asking that my basest urges be translated into public policy.
As the years have passed and I can become more reflective about my sister’s death, I have become convinced that what I want of her killer is to know that she has an understanding of what she has done. I want to know that she carries that weight on her conscience.
Killing her would be pointless. It would not heal my wound. Imprisoning her would also have no impact. All that would satisfy me is to look into her eyes and see the depths of her regret for what she did, to see that part of her that will never be the same in the full knowledge of her actions.


  1. Couldn't agree more Ben, and don't forget, some people have better lawyers than others. The Tonbridge Robbery (securitas £53m) all had legal aid, yet one of them (Fowler) had a private legal team, so if you commited the same crime, and you could afford Mr Loophole, rather than the duty solicitor, you should be ok, all very unfair.

    But have you not thought the meat on your plate is no more than a murder victim too?

  2. I could not have put it better, Ben. My sentiments exactly.

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but I suspect that maybe because you also know the weight one carries having taken a human life, you understand her killer in a way nobody else could?

  3. ABSOLUTELY!!! My brither was murdered too and I have no desire to put his killer's family through the trauma of losing aloved one. One was enough!

  4. Indeed, the whole idea of capital punishment is hypocritical.

  5. I can't believe that anyone how supports the death penalty as a default position has thought it through at all. I hope that people affected by someone's death at the hands of another are given the time to draw the same conclusions as Word(above) and Ben, which they maybe wouldn't be if we brought it back. Watched an interesting documentary by Michael Portillo (yeah, I know!) earlier this year which suggested the overriding motivation for the death penalty in the US was judicial revenge. Groups like Murder Victim's Families for Human Rights give some hope on this front. I have to say I was initially intrigued by this post as I thought there could be no chance of a reintroduction. Until I saw the C4 poll which states that 70% of poll respondents thought the death penalty should be available as a maximum penalty for some very serious crimes. I am obviously *way* out of touch :(

  6. Babs G . Take those polls with a massive pinch of salt. They could have questioned 10 people in the office in leu of actually doing any meaningful research (tabloid journalists are fond of that method too!) and also they could have taken a sample of people of a certain demographic who they were pretty sure would give the answer they were looking for to make the program seem 'edgy'.

    Since studying research methods in Psychology I'm always very wary of statistics because they are so dependent on a number of factors - not least who paid for the research.

  7. Gaina - Thanks for that. Familiar with sample size and skewing;) Just made me see the possible topicality.

  8. The words and feelings you put in this article, Ben! Reading it, I felt like a thief in the night, stealing a boys prayer to his Divine Father. These words came from your Divine Soul, Ben. I would not want to contaminate them with my thoughts.

    All of the religious leaders, who ever lived, are not really worthy of setting their eyes on your words and commenting. Let them hold their tongues, be silent, I say!