Odd coincidence of events:

First, several death penalty cases which have hit the news lately, namely Troy Davis, Gov. Rick Perry’s execution record, and Lawrence Brewer. And second, without knowing in advance the plotline, the renting of two movies which ended scripted death sentences, the execution taking place on film.*

I typically try to avoid state execution scenes in movies – good couple of minutes to check on dinner, go to the restroom, Google something, close my eyes, whatever, even in movies I otherwise like.

I feel pretty decided about the death penalty.  I don’t like it.  I don’t agree with it. I don’t think it’s effective as a social strategy, or for crime prevention. I don’t think it’s morally or ethically correct.  I’ve heard a hundred “but what if some guy killed your … blah blah blah,” and I have sympathy with the real or hypothetical victims, and I am as outraged at the murder/rape/treason as the person asking. Whatever story they tell will most likely sit in my gut and my mind for days to come. I have no problem understanding that rage, or the accompanying sorrow.

It just doesn’t persuade me to think the death penalty is the correct response.

Part of me just doesn’t think it’s right to take that power, the power of inflicting death, and levy it against another person. It’s not our decision to make.  I used to think it was God’s place to decide such things, when I believed in a deity.  Now I don’t believe in deities.  I still sort of believe in God (another whole topic) but suffice it to say I don’t think god is a supreme being. To the extent that god, or the universe, or the cosmic flow of things takes people out of this life and into a next, it happens on a grand scale, as well it should.  It some how feels entirely different – and wrong – when it comes to individuals doing the killing: in crimes, in war, in execution. Leave Death to disaster, to insurmountable disease, to Time.

Part of me chills at the basic irony of the very idea of the death penalty, in the case of executing those who have killed.  Really? we’re going to kill someone to punish them for killing someone? As Tevia said, an eye for an eye, pretty soon the whole world is blind.

And it seems to let the killer off entirely too easy.  If we are punishing, then punish.  I don’t mean we should be cruel, but people should be held accountable when they are in the wrong. To live in relative isolation with your own miserable self, cut off from normal social interactions, is to my mind a natural consequences version of justice.  Maybe even an opportunity to face yourself down and correct your impact on the world. Our prisons are not exactly suited to encouraging inmates to reflect upon their wrongs, but it has been known to happen.

And if not, you are held away from the greater community, where you can’t harm us.

To kill them lets them off far too easily.

And then there is this:  we are our brother’s keepers. Children who grow up and commit horrible acts of violence on others are, nonetheless, children who grew up in our communities.  We, as a society, produced them.  They are our community’s responsibility.  To kill them let’s us off too easy.

But executions are still happening, around me, around the world.  They make me sad, they sometimes enrage me.  I close my eyes, I leave the room, I google something.  And, sometimes I write.


* Spoiler if you haven’t seen them (consider yourself duly warned): The Changeling, with Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich, and Lonely Hearts, with Selma Hayek and John Travolta.