14 December 2005


(This is my response to some of the comments on my friend Chris Clarke's blog, where Chris published a poem and people debated the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the former Crip game leader cum Nobel peace Prize nominee.)

I've noticed this before with executions: the media will show "both sides" of the debate and invariably include relatives of the victim(s) expressing their belief that "justice" demands retribution. And I've seen a number of interviews where the same relative will protest that "I feel good" when the deed has been done. They sound as if they are trying hard to convince us. Actually, if they really did feel good we would hear it in their voices. Usually, they sound worried or defensive. I know that if it were me, I wouldn't feel good: I'd probably still be royally pissed off that I'd lost a loved one and I'd still have a lot of mourning to do.

The hardest thing for people to do is to "move on". It is hard to forgive and it is hard to forget. It is hard to get beyond our emotional hurts. If it were easy, capital punishment would be a thing of the past. Because the only way to move past those hurts is to actually forgive and "let it go". And once we do that, there is no need for retribution.

It's in this spirit that capital punishment really doesn't work. It doesn't work for the victims' families and it certainly is too late for the victim. It's also debated whether capital punishment actually works as a deterrent.

The only possible benefit to capital punishment is that it may save the state money compared to the cost of incarceration, but then we get into dangerous ground. Using that criteria, why wouldn't we kill anyone whose cost/benefit ratio drops below a certain point? And if money is the issue, why don't we favour treatment over incarceration for drug-related crime? For that matter, why do we go to war these days, when war has a very nasty cost/benefit ratio? It's not like we're allowed to keep those places we've invaded (which might, at least, pay the bills). Of course I'm being facetious here. It's not nice to invade neighbouring countries and steal them!

I know that I'm not the same person I was 26 years ago. How could Tookie be? A lot of people were convinced that Tookie had turned around his life. Last night in California, took place the execution of a man who was a murderer a lifetime ago.

I choose to believe that people can be redeemed. And so I am unhappy over the loss.


Anonymous shane said...

Very good point about it not healing.. I note they do say "Nothing will bring him/her back, but.."

Apparently it costs more to execute someone than most long sentences (due to the cost of procedure). My google-fu is not up to finding a reference though.

It occurs to me that if people can't be redeemed, or reformed, then perhaps the sensible way to live is with a "do unto others, first" credo. The crips might have agreed.

1:43 am  
Anonymous ingrid said...

Yeah, how does killing someone else (even if they were guilty) help you heal? Getting over the loss of a loved one is not something that can come from outside, it has to come from inside yourself. I don't believe that executing a murderer is justifiable on the grounds of helping the victim's family feel better.

4:54 pm  
Blogger elissa feit said...

I realise on re-reading that I want to be clear: I feel for the families. I can imagine the terrible loss. And it makes me so sad for them.

I would LOVE to help them heal and move on. In no way do I intend for my statements to belittle their feelings.

I simply know that it won't work and I also know how difficult moving through hurt/loss is. And killing someone, even a murderer, just feeds the chain of loss, for those who actually loved them.

12:40 am  
Anonymous novarse said...

interesting point from shane re: cost of an execution. i think you are referring to the cost of a death penalty costs compared to a life imprisonment costs (as opposed to just the cost of the execution).
here's a couple of links supporting this:

11:31 am  
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