In a well-publicized case, Stanley Tookie Williams was executed yesterday morning at 12:01AM, affecting those who had followed his many pleas for clemency, one way or the other. Perhaps it was an irony of intended mercy that the time should be one minute after midnight so that there would be no waiting period for him or for those who were his executioners, once the date had been established.
Capital punishment is wrong in so many ways. It is morally wrong, practically wrong, psychologically wrong, and wrong in terms of what we teach our children about the meaning of life. To begin with - the offence against morality - to take the life of another human being usurps a power that does not belong to the human justice system but only to the system of Divine justice within which all can be seen in the way of motivation and circumstance, and proper measures applied in order to correct and heal the soul who has gone astray.
Practically speaking, there are many instances of convicts who have been shown to be innocent, years into the period of their incarceration, who subsequently were exonerated and let go. However, even if there were only one instance of this kind, it should be enough to prevent those with decision-making authority from being certain that the conviction of a capital crime was just. Unfortunately, there is not one instance of this kind of reversal, but many.
Psychologically, the belief we place in the mutability of human beings, in therapeutic intervention, in rehabilitation, and in hope, should move us in the direction of doing all that we can within the justice system to help improve the chances of rehabilitation for a convicted felon, rather than presume that such a person has led an unworthy life which needs to be terminated. If we have hope in other areas for positive change and healing, why not in this one as well?
Regarding the education of children, it is one of the invisible (because not well understood in its importance) messages of a society to its children, that violence is alright under particular circumstances which the state decides. It is alright to fight a pre-emptive war, and it is alright to take the life of another human being. Children are inured to the presence of violence because it is so present in their lives, if not personally, then in the cartoons, stories, and images that are conveyed to them on television. However, for many, it is also present within their personal sphere. Why not capital punishment, then? It is a simple matter to say - he got what he deserves. However, it is not so simple, because children learn what they are shown. They learn by example, not by words that don't match the example. What does a society teach its children by the example of capital punishment? To be afraid of the law? To refrain from doing bad things? Perhaps for some. A society teaches its children that human life is not ultimately valuable. That it is valuable only up to a point, and beyond that point it is a subjective opinion concerning how valuable it is. This is true of the present execution in California. The last 'granting of clemency' issued in California just prior to an execution was in 1967 when it was shown through new evidence that the prisoner was 'brain damaged'.
We are, as a society, claiming to set an example for the world in terms of the ideals of democracy and the ideals of an open society in which the 'freedom to be' is paramount and respected above all other freedoms - the freedom to be oneself, the freedom to be an individual and to carve out one's own path in life. What does it say about the pursuit of such freedom when, from a subjective point of view, (that is, from the perspective of the existing evidence, beliefs, and decision-making capacity of judge and jury at a particular moment in time), the freedom of an individual can be totally removed through a death sentence.
Let us weep for America, not just because another of its citizens was put to death, (and of course, for that as well), but because the idealism that is so present at her core, that is so present in her historical documents, that is so present in her efforts to be a 'light' to the rest of the world, is allowed to become so tarnished by actions that speak not of light but of darkness, that show, by example, that we have a long way to go before ridding our national consciousness of the entitlement to act violently that belies all that we say about the value of human life.
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