The debate over the death penalty has raged for many years. My personal coming to terms with capital punishment has been long and tortuous. For most of my life I have been pro-death penalty. I have argued it's merits with many people through out my life. My reasoning was simple if someone had committed murder they forfeited their right to be among us. It was a kind of Old Testament rationale. An eye for an eye. I repeated this constantly as if this simple mantra described everything it swept up in it's wide embrace. That was all there was to say.
Leviticus 24: 17 "Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death. 18 Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal.19 ‘If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him— 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him. 21 And whoever kills an animal shall restore it; but whoever kills a man shall be put to death. 22 You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the Lord your God.”This cold logic brought down on stone tablets described a world view that has been transformed. Many of the core stories depicted in the Bible which infuses our Judeo-Christian culture would be challenged today. The concept of death by stoning was called barbaric when it was applied to a muslim woman who had committed adultery. As metaphor it continues though. It encapsulates a method by which society can collectively punish, yet no one can be held personally responsible for the death of the murderer. In the west we no longer stone people to death. However, our instinct for collective reprisal continues seemingly unabated through the death penalty. If we all were to participate in this way by casting stones perhaps it would have a healing effect for victims as well as society. But wait read again another truth:
John 8:10 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Now early[a] in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst,4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught[b] in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded[c] us that such should be stoned.[d] But what do You say?”[e] 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.[f]7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up[g] and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience,[h] went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her,[i]“Woman, where are those accusers of yours?[j] Has no one condemned you.
*Contra Costa Times reporter John Simerman, "They had some trouble with the second I.V., which was in the left arm… Williams, at one point, grimaced or looked almost out of frustration…at the difficulty there…He had his glasses on the whole time. He kept them on, and he kept looking…
With a look of frustration on his face, Williams angrily asked the technicians, "You guys doing that right?"
On a cold December night in 2005 I stood with a couple of hundred anti death penalty advocates. I shielded my emotions by documenting, taking pictures. My inner contradictions running high I used my camera to cover my my feelings. Mr. Stanley "Tookie" Williams former head of the notorius "Crips" gang in Los Angeles, at that moment waited on San Quintens Death Row for the final ritual to begin. As the minutes ticked by the crowd became increasingly more tense. Some waited for information to be relayed on their cell phones. Till the last there was some hope that this infamous gang leader would gain clemency for all of his work to compel young gang bangers to lay down their guns. He urged them not follow in his path.
For the most part cynisim followed in his wake, many believing that his new found redemption was a ruse At 12:35 A.M. on the morning of December 13, 2005 Stanley Williams was executed. Finally it was over, reportedly he had urged the executioner on*. The letahal ingections worked their way into his system and extinguished his heart. The crowd grew hushed as word spread. To the end he proclaimed his innocence for the crime he died for, though many questioned whether he had participated in or ordered the murder of others. Regardless the potential good he accomplished in the twenty four years in which his trial was on appeal sat unquestioned.
In the days before I had gotten into a protracted argument with a death penalty aadvocate. Our conversation ended when he had called Stanley Williams an animal. Words I had used before myself, but some how they semed lame and hollow. Raising ourselves above other human beings, debasing them to make a point seemed so much like the quasi moralistic words of the slave holding class both in the fields and in the pulpit. If we could by edict will people to be less than human, we would join with every petty tyrnt that walked the earth. If it is aas simple as denying another human being their humanity, then we proclaim ourselves innocent. If we cannot see humanity even in the most evil individual murder then we have no place to put he Hitlers, Pol Pots and all mass murderers.
So for the next six years I wrestled with the ghost of TOKOIE and every other inmate waiting on death row for their sentence to be carried out. Since Stanley Williams was executed I tend to read stories about executions in the news. Perhaps a morbid fascination fuels this or it might be that I need to probe the mind of the executioner and the executed. The legal wrangling, the families of the victims, the original crime, the exoneration based on DNA, all of these pull at me. At this point I know this. If every one who was convicted of a capital offense was forced to do life imprison with out the possibility of parole, that would indeed be death sentence albeit protracted. We would deprive the prisoner of a future outside of prison until they were dead. If you think prison is the good life, you haven't been in one. I have been in several as an observer. My fit convince rst '"remote" in my television career was at San Bruno Jail. I have also known several people who were in jail. All your false brevado could not convince me that being incarcerated in maximum security jail was a cake walk. Nor I might add, for the guilty should it be.
Most of all the economic statistics on the Death Penalty vs Life Without Possibility of Parole, the exoneration of innocent people through DNA evidence and the execution of people with IQ's below 75 have pushed me to reconsider. Where will the execution of our fellow human beings take us?
If you must have retribution locking someone up for the rest of their lives is punishment enough. It is a slow somber death. Giving the state the option of killing people to show how wrong killing is defies logic. Creating a cottage industry that spikes the cost of the ultimate punishment is ludicrous. It is cheaper to house an inmate for life than for to prosecute and appeal a death sentence trial.
So you say what if it was one of your friends or family? This is not an abstraction for me. If you have ever contemplated carrying out a death sentence yourself, you cannot ask that question. My question to you would you stone someone to death? Could you pull the trigger on the suspected murderer? Would you be certain you got the right person? Since the reinstitution of the death penalty 78% of executions took pace in the deep south, what do you suspect you would find in terms of racial makeup of the convicts?
So finally I must say that long held beliefs can evolve. My fellow California Voters I ask you to consider a yes vote on Prop 34. If you like I think it is time for us to get out of the business of killing people please VOTE YES. If you have considered the alternatives calmly away from the inflamed rhetoric and believe as I do that punishment comes in many forms please VOTE YES. If you have examined the facts and know what a tremendos economic drain capital punishment causes our society,
Please VOTE YES on 34.
FIND OUT THE FACTS BEFORE YOU RENDER YOUR DECISION
grief is private
the world needs to know
that all people
are the victims of
the swirl of violence
one beginning attaching
to the end of another
it preys upon us
like a striped tiger
slinking through the underbrush
stealing the silence
paws moving noiselessly swiftly
rippling into the night
©2012 Frederick D. Perry, All Rights Reserved