World Day Against The Death Penalty

A couple of years ago I was interviewed for a different website and was asked  ‘Who inspired you to go into politics?’and I replied that as far as I know I am not in politics.

However, if the question had been ‘What inspired you to take an interest in politics?’ I would have responded that it was capital punishment.

Concerning the claim of justice for the victim’s family, I say there is no amount of retaliatory deaths that would compensate to me the inestimable value of my daughter’s life, nor would they restore her to my arms. To say that the death of any other person would be just retribution is to insult the immeasurable worth of our loved ones who are victims. We cannot put a price on their lives. That kind of justice would only dehumanize and degrade us because it legitimates an animal instinct for gut-level blood thirsty revenge…. In my case, my own daughter was such a gift of joy and sweetness and beauty, that to kill someone in her name would have been to violate and profane the goodness of her life; the idea is offensive and repulsive to me.

Marietta Jaeger, whose 7 year-old daughter Susie was kidnapped and murdered in the US in 1973.

I don’t know when it was, but I was very young, maybe around 7 or 8, when I first heard about it, and the concept of it filled me with a visceral disgust, and it still does.

Around the same time I saw that famous footage from somewhere in Asia where a policeman walks up to handcuffed kid and summarily executed him by shooting him in the temple. As the boy fell the blood was spurting out of the side of his head. I can still see that image when I close my eyes. I have never really been able to get rid of it.

Although I couldn’t formulate the thought in the way I can now, I knew at a young age that the idea of legislating and then processing a life away was a horrible thing, almost worse than the summary execution I had seen.

As you get older you become more able to analyse the statistics of the thing too. There are always conflicting studies, but the weight of evidence seems to be that having the death penalty does not correspond with a reduction in crime or murder rates.

The death penalty could also be attacked on a financial basis as the costs of maintaining the death system and the legal processes involved are astronomical.

However, that way of attacking it is also a form of surrender to savagery because, in the simplest terms, we are talking about the most fundamental of rights, the right to life. If  the apparatus of a state doesn’t exist to protect that then what the hell should it exist for?

In its essence though, it is a moral argument and a simple one, so simple in fact that it seems embarrassingly unnecessary to even write it out here – if murder, and in particular premeditated murder is the worst thing, and most (if not all ) moral codes and systems throughout the world seem to agree on that, then there can be no justification for premeditated murder, even if you change the name and call it execution.

Today is the international day against the death penalty. Remember the innocents who have been and are being executed. Think of all the burned witches and humanists in the medieval and middle-ages, and if you believe someone called Jesus existed then think of him too. Think of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his friends. These people are all the most brutal reminders we have of the sometimes very thinly concealed savagery of our species.

But less frequently said, is that the guilty should also be remembered. The majority of them through history were executed for things that in other times and places would not have resulted in their deaths.

Amongst other things, until this abomination of the death penalty is gone, we haven’t earned the right to separate ourselves out from any group of animals or bygone peoples that we refer to as “savages”.


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