A Few Thoughts on the Death Penalty

It’s been a hard week here in Aurora, Colorado. Last week the defendant in the Theater Shooting trail was found guilty on all 165 counts against him. I watched the entire live feed as the judge read each verdict. It took about an hour and the defendant never reacted once.

Tomorrow they jury will begin hearing arguments for the “sentencing phase”. They will decide whether or not the defendant will spend the rest of his life in jail or if he will die for his crimes.

After the verdict was read I made my way to the comment section of the story and was a bit surprised to find everyone stating without a shadow of a doubt that this man was not insane and that he deserved death. I remember feeling, as I have many times since this tragedy happened over three years ago, a deep sadness.

I am sad for the victims and their families. I am sad for my whole community. I am also sad for the defendants family. And I admit, I am sad for this poor man too.

I know what he did was wrong. I would never dispute that fact but I wonder if our definition for insanity might be a bit off. It seems legally he only had to know that what he was doing was wrong to face the possibility of death by the state. I have a strong feeling that this just isn’t the right way.

Over the three years that I have had this horrible event and trial in my mind I have reevaluated my feelings on the death penalty and I think I have come out of this knowing that it just isn’t right. More than that, I don’t even believe it is useful.

The first thing that gave me pause was the permanence of death. Once we decide to kill someone we can’t go back. What if we are wrong? In this case we know he committed the crime but there have been others where we executed the wrong one. How can we live with that possibility? I would rather the guilty ones live so we don’t kill any more innocents.

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot.

– Exodus 21:24

Historically capital punishment seems to me to only have been used as a means of revenge and possibly a deterrent. Revenge serves little purpose other than the possibility of closer for the families but I would argue that letting the perpetrator live, studying him, and finding the underlying causes so that we could recognize the warning signs in others and prevent further tragedy would be a much more satisfying conclusion then simple execution.

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

– Mahatma Gandhi

Clearly the death penalty doesn’t work as a deterrent because, it seems, this country is dealing with a rise in mass shootings. In fact a simple Google search showed me there was “still no evidence that executions deter criminals” and that the F.B.I. Confirms a Sharp Rise in Mass Shootings Since 2000. I mean it seems obvious that if people feared death they would not commit such crimes but they do, time and time again. It seems almost….insane?

People laugh at me when I tell them the thing that finally changed my mind completely on the idea of capital punishment. IT was a quote from Gandalf the wizard in Lord of the Rings. In the books Frodo believes that if only Gollum had been killed he would have been safe. Gandalf in turn lectures him about what should be for him to decide and what shouldn’t:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

This touches on my first point about the permanence of death and the possibility of killing an innocent. I just don’t think we should be dealing out death to the ones who we believe deserve it when we can’t give life to the ones who deserve that too.

So what do we do instead? How do we punish those who commit the most heinous crimes. Well, I think we should start by taking a look at the ways in which society contributes to it’s members feeling like this is the only way to get what they need, and we should look at the state of our mental health care.

People who commit theses crimes are deeply disturbed and probably hurting very badly inside. Wouldn’t we be a better more just society if instead of killing them we actually rehabilitated them? Maybe even learned something from them? Then need to shed blood for blood feels so primitive, but helping those who need our help the most feels a bit more enlightened. It feels like a step forward for us all.

I’m not saying this man should ever be released from prison. I don’t know enough about him to know if he could ever be deemed anything less than a threat to society. There is a possibility that he can come to understand what he did and feel real regret and sadness for his actions. I believe he could also find some redemption in helping us prevent future deaths. Why not go that route instead?

Why the need to “fry his ass” or “kill him by firing squad”. I know we are all angry but we cannot let anger make us do something we can never come back from. We can never undo what was done and another death doesn’t ease the pain of the losses we have suffered. We should all stop and think about what is right and why.

We might find out that there could be a better way after all.

P.S. This was written with all due respect for the victims, their families, and the community. The views expressed are my own opinion and were voiced with no ill intent.

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Lisa

Hello! My name is Lisa. I find the human condition fascinating and I often write stuff about that. I blog at zenandpi.com but you can also find me on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, and if you like what I do, consider signing up for my newsletter. Thanks :)

4 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on the Death Penalty”

  1. I am also against the death penalty, one of those reasons being the number of wrongful imprisonments just in my state alone in the last few decades. Justice isn’t always perfect; leave the Biblical “eye for an eye” punishments to that person’s God or god or other deity.

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  2. Our entire prison industrial complex has problems, including death row. Once I realized we have executed innocent people I couldn’t go back to supporting the death penalty. I’d be curious on your opinion on why these mass public shootings are becoming more frequent.

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    1. Exactly! I can’t understand how so many people can be okay with the possibility of killing innocent people because our justice system is flawed. I have no concrete proof as to why we are there has been an increase in mass shootings. My gut tells me it’s because we have more people experiencing feelings of isolation and loneliness with no where to turn for help. I think ultimately it comes down to mental health care being both too expensive for most and stigmatized in many communities. We need to make some big changes in our society to fix this.

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