Sunday, June 20, 2010

They call it "instant justice" when it's past the legal limit.

'Cept it turns out there IS no legal limit. Ha ha! Joke's on you, Declan!

(It hopefully goes without saying that the ruminations in the following post can and should be generalized far beyond capital punishment--that was just their catalyst and a convenient jumping-off point)

I was reading this story about the death row inmate who wanted to be executed by firing squad, and I felt kind of bad--not that this is materially worse than any other execution, really (I wasn't too struck by the "firing squad" aspect--one way's as bad as another if you ask me), but when you get down to specific details, it comes home in a more concrete way. Like:

Gardner, who once described himself as a "nasty little bugger" with a mean streak, spent his last day sleeping, reading the novel "Divine Justice," watching the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy and meeting with his attorneys and a Mormon bishop.


None of Gardner's relatives witnessed the execution, at Gardner's request. "I would have liked to be there for him. I love him to death. He's my little brother," Randy Gardner said.

Two brief observations:

1. This was for a murder committed twenty-five years ago. Are you the same person you were twenty-five years ago? Fuck, I can barely recognize myself from just two or three years back. I have to point out that even if you're really, really into vengeance, chances are very good that you're not killing the person who did the crime. And I find it HIGHLY alarming that the pro-CP response to that would almost certainly be, well then, kill him SOONER ("quick--before he has a chance to reform!").

2. In addition to everything else--capital punishment inflicts a serious psychic assault on a whole network of other people. Any case in favor ought to have to consider that as well as everything else. I remember, after Timothy McVeigh's execution, seeing a picture (in stupid Newsweek, probably) of his father in his grief. It was pretty stark. McVeigh was a nasty piece of work who inflicted a lot of pain, but were his actions REALLY enough to justify inflicting that same pain on someone else?

But that's not my main point. My main point is: if you're still trying to maintain a belief that people are basically good, I would NOT recommend reading the comments section on that article. I'm not going to pollute this blog by reprinting examples, but it's pretty much wall-to-wall sadism, with people helpfully suggesting ways to make the process more painful and like that (and doesn't it just make it that much worse when the sadists in question are represented with those little sparkly, fashion-doll Yahoo avatars?). If you've ever thought to yourself--possibly after suffering some sort of severe head trauma--"you know, I'm pretty sure our country uses capital punishment for sober, rationally-considered reasons, and not just out of sheer, atavistic bloodlust"--well, this oughta snap you right the hell out of THAT delusion. I would never cast aspersions on a murder victim's loved ones talking like this. I probably would do the same. But these are not they; they're just complete strangers who get a REAL kick out of reading about the state killing people.

(I tried to post my own reply, but it doesn't seem to have shown up--I think it might've gotten filtered out for including the word "fuck." Imagine if some innocent child was innocently scrolling through the death-cheerleading thread and suddenly, without warning, was exposed to DA EFF WORD. Boom--instant trauma.)

There's a very dark, cynical corner of my mind in which reading such things makes me feel a bit less bad about the oil spill, in a "burn, Washington burn" kind of way--anything that leads to the faster ruination of a country that breeds such monsters can only be for the best. I try to repress that kind of thinking, but it's very tempting.

Because, okay, say you DON'T want to give up on humanity. You think there IS some way to rise above this kind of diseased thinking. Very nice. I applaud you. And then I ask: how? How do you expect to reach the kind of people--and there's a goddamn lot of them--who, at the SLIGHTEST excuse, are willing to drop all pretense to civilization? Not a facetious question. As a grad student, I've heard a lotta ideas about "teaching for social justice" tossed around, and hey, it can't HURT for a few more kids to be forced to think about these things, granite, but it seems like kind of a drop in the ocean.

How did I go from being pro to anti? Not quite sure. It just sort of happened at some point. I know I was in high school, because I remember that I had to bring in some sort of newspaper article for some class when I was in ninth grade, and I chose one about some death row inmate's appeals and being all GRR! No more appeals! Kill! And then I remember being one of only TWO people in my twelfth-grade social studies class (thanks for your support, Laura, wherever you are now) to be against when the topic came up. What happened in the interim? It's a mystery, but I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that it could well have had something to do with Karla Faye Tucker. "Embarrassed" because one likes to think that one's beliefs have a foundation more solid than "oh no! Pretty white woman in distress!" I do remember feeling bad about that, though. Still, I think that if something like that works, good for it. It is a universal truth that humans tend to be swayed more easily by emotional appeals than by cold hard logic.

And yet...most people WEREN'T swayed by the case in question, were they? There was plenty of bwahaha-ing about Tucker, and I frankly suspect that there was a very creepy psychosexual subtext to some of it. And let's face it: I was always on a trajectory to reject morally indefensible right-wing positions. It was gonna happen sooner or later (probably sooner). It's not as though I needed it.

So this leaves us back where we started. Seriously, if anyone has any ideas about why I should not just give up all hope for this crapass country, speak up. 'Cause I'm coming up empty here.


Blogger Kaitlyn pontificated to the effect that...

There are people who commit crimes so heinous you want to kill them with your bare hands, but that's an impulse. Justice should not be based on my immediate reaction.

As soon as I thought about the death penalty, I was against it. Too much chance for a mistake.

About McVeigh - they actually killed him before a generation passed after his crime!

Another issue with the time - 25 years in this case - the victim(s)' friends and family have had time to heal. His execution drags it all back up - and you know the vultures will want to interview them. "Finally, you get justice" or some BS.

I think life in prison (especially isolation in some of those federal ones) is worse than death.

I spent some time locked up (we didn't even get fresh air) and that was only 4 days. Life in prison sounds horrible.

I don't doubt the comments - there are only a few sites where I will read the comments, and no mainstream site is included. I read the comments on a couple of stories in the NYT it's the liberal bible, right, they should all be progressive thinkers! Um, no. Ugh.

9:44 PM  

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