Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Human Rights im Heimatland

Capital murder and the state of various punishments meted out thereupon should never really be a subjects for Champagne and a tickertape parade, but I'm "pleased" that New Jersey, the state of my birth (where I arrived yesterday morning), has abolished the death penalty.

I think it's telling (and interesting) that many vocal supporters of this legislation were actually family members of victims. I think the case could be made that life imprisonment is potentially a more severe -- or at least prolonged -- punishment than death. As someone who's experienced only the briefest of involuntary confinements, I have to say that to me the idea of being imprisoned forever is horrifically soul-crushing, so if soul-crushing is your goal, don't worry further.

I found it almost disturbing that a lot of commenters on JMG felt the need to say something along the lines of, "I wouldn't be opposed to the death penalty if it were possible to guarantee non-racist application and there were no unjustified death sentences carried out." In other words, these people would have no problem executing a confessed, confirmed-with-video serial murderer, for example. I'm not sure what those contributors were asserting, but basically, that's just a total pro-death-penalty argument, in my opinion. Either you're against execution as punishment or you're not. Whether or not you're "against" racist bias and unwarranted criminal conviction is a completely separate topic, if you asked me (and um, who other than a psychopath would be "for" those things, anyway?).

There was also commentary along the lines of people feeling that they were theoretically anti-death penalty but they'd probably feel differently if a loved one was victimized. I never want to be in that situation, but again, I think the message is given more weight when crime victims' families come out against the death penalty. I read blog comments in which people said, "well it's only natural to want that kind of revenge." To which I would just reply, well, no, it's not really "natural" (if "natural" is meant to be a justification)... it's something learned, and it's something cultural, potentially akin to heterosexuals' so-called "natural" aversion to homosexuality. I firmly believe that what is societally accepted or sanctioned is, with very few exceptions, constantly evolving. We've got real hangups and issues with "vengeance" vis-a-vis "justice" in this country, and to assume that's devoid of a cultural ethos or context is just naive.

In any case, this public abolition was welcome and frankly, somewhat surprising in our current political climate. I'm proud of New Jersey, not that I needed another reason to be.


Huntington said...

The whole emotional argument is exactly why the rule of law is so necessary. Revenge should never be the basis for public policy. And yes, good for New Jersey.

BigAssBelle said...

i felt very proud of my sometime state, new jersey. i can't wrap my head around the fact of the State taking the life of a human being. i understand all of the reasons for it but i still can't get there. and it is ridiculous to assume that we would ever, in this country, find a way to apply the death penalty without prejudice or error. never going to happen. and that is beside the point: the State should not take a life. end of story.