The dishonesty of capital punishment

In the past week, there have been a couple of Supreme Court decisions that approach the matter of capital punishment. The Arkansas Supreme Court has decided that the legislature must define the exact method of lethal injection. In the meantime, the Correction Department has no legal means to carry out death sentences. On the national scene, the United States Supreme Court discerned some time ago that the state killing of minors is inherently unconstitutional and now prohibits life imprisonment for minors.

This brief comment will observe a common thread running through these decisions, and through American thought (if you can properly call public opinion “thought”). Americans need to face up to the reality that we hate capital punishment, we are ashamed of it, and, when it comes time to carry out an execution, we have appointed Rube Goldberg as Chief Executioner.

It is very important to understand that I have not changed my position about the death penalty. I’m against it as a horrendous misapplication of justice and prime expression of economic discrimination (mixed in with our societal contempt of the unattractive and disabled). It is, in one sense, a good thing that we so loath this awful misuse of judicial power.

In the past couple of years, I have become a fan of the Pierrepoint family of English executioners. Tom Pierrepoint served from the early 20th century till about 1950. He was the actual hangman in the opening scene of “The Dirty Dozen.” (The American military officials were there but Tom and Albert Pierrepoint did the hanging.) England so abhorred the American practices connected with executions, that it was required by law that American military personnel convicted of crimes against local citizens during the build-up to WWII would be put to death according to English procedures. If my memory is right, there were 14 Americans convicted of murdering and raping English citizens during this period and hanged by one of the Pierrepoint professionals.

I could talk about the Pierrepoint hangmen all day. It is just that good of a story. The relevant information for our discussion is the cumbersome approach Americans take to executions and the lack of professionalism. England used a scheme of long-drop hangings in which the condemned either died instantaneously or became immediately unconscious. Americans still used short-drop hangings, which can be ghastly.The executions carried out by Master Sargent Woods at Nurenberg are a good example. It is obvious that several of the 11 prisoners strangled for up to 15 minutes and one may have been beaten to death with a club while hanging. The gallows were poorly built, so more than one prisoner appears to have been struck the platform when he was dropped.

Of course, if you do not place any value on human life, the image of God, or the dignity of man, none of this matters. Most normal people would be horrified. It must be noted here that the English had a tightly controlled procedure for hangings in which nothing was left to chance. It was conducted with amazing speed. This was not done for the benefit of the condemned person, but for the psychological well being of the people assigned to the duty of performing executions. While the film “Pierrepoint” is full of historical errors, it will give you a clear view of the astounding efficiency of British hangings. Watch it on YouTube.

In the typical English prison, when the hangman and his lone assistant entered your cell (wearing appropriate suit and tie), you were already in your last one-minute of earthly existence. Yes, it was that fast. By contrast, in modern Arkansas, the SWAT team swoops down on the death cell and leads the condemned prisoner to the execution chamber. Then the person is strapped to a gurney, which can take a minute or two. This is followed by a process in which a medical person goes digging around for a usable vein for the intravenous line. Next there are final words. This whole thing can take 10 minutes and is reported to have occasionally taken much longer.

Let’s just face up to the fact that Americans are no good at conducting executions. They are dehumanizing to the condemned. We are never entitled to exact that penalty. It is degrading to the state and to the people of Arkansas. It is an intolerable burden to those who must perform such a duty.

The United States Supreme Court is obviously not populated with devoted death penalty supporters. They instinctively understand that, no matter the guilt, or the type of horrible offense committed, younger people should never experience anything so against every decent natural impulse. That has been settled for a while and was expanded just the other day so that juveniles may not be given life sentences. Since some of these supposed “children” are dangerous sociopaths who need to be kept permanently segregated from regular law-abiding people, I am concerned. I believe in punishment and I understand that violent criminals cannot be rehabilitated.

We should not be putting anybody to death. There is too much politics and too much stupid talk around issues of criminal justice. If you don’t believe me, just wait for the comments. None of this is about anybody’s hypothetical experience as a crime victim. I pray to God none of you ever have to face that situation. Forget rehabilitation. That is no use for violent criminals. The argument does not deal with feeling better about one’s self, although it is about finding practical ways to feel safer.

We know the solution. Make divorce harder. Make fathers pay for their children. Encourage public schools to give students more than a vague idea of self-worth disconnected from academic performance. Provide free lunches and breakfasts in public schools until such time as fathers are lawfully contributing to the upbringing of the children they brought into the world. As those young people keep up their end of the deal with academic performance and civil behavior, let them know that we need them and want them to fully participate in our civic and economic life. Severely punish all violent crimes, no matter the offenders ago.

Perhaps I should call on the argument currently being made by the United States Conference of Catholic bishops. I do not believe that capital punishment is moral. I will cite Pope John Paul II as my religious authority. I might refuse to pay for these immoral institutions. That is what the bishops are saying about contraception coverage for the employees of Catholic institutions. They do not want to pay for the Affordable Care Act. I do not want to pay for executions. Jane Fonda did not want to pay for the Vietnam War (and she has been proven right a thousand times over).

Call me a socialist, just do not kill anybody with my tax dollars.


About patlynch
I am a broadcaster in Arkansas, a former freelance writer and political columnist in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Writing Coach. Speaker. Director of the Christian Foundations for Ministry program, and presently enrolled in the Anglican School of Ministry Master of Ministry program.

5 Responses to The dishonesty of capital punishment

  1. Patt says:

    How can capital punishment not be moral when God commanded it in the Old Testament? And they did it by stoning which was not exactly humane or dignified.

  2. patlynch says:

    Glad you asked that question. I should have been more precise. Capitol punishment is not, of itself, always immoral. The Old Testament reference is to a theocracy, and might be extended to civil jurisdictions that faithfully follow the laws of God. In the OT, prosecutors did not have the option to try some folks under threat of the death penalty, while others would only serve time (and not much time) for very similar offenses. OT justice is more uniform in that it does not discriminate against the poor, unattractive, mentally ill, and racial minorities. Humans in the 21st century are very far from anything but a politically based lottery that favors some and condemns others. In principle, it might be possible (though most unlikely) to have a judicial system that applied punishments in an equal fashion. We are a long way from it and I am still against the death penalty. As it is administered in the United States, it is immoral.

  3. The argument has been made that the Old Testament law was all that a stiff-necked people could endure at the time, but that the fulfilment of the law moves beyond “eye for an eye” to “turn the other cheek, pray for those who spitefully use you”, etc. In fact, I’ll have to check, but I’m pretty sure the one who said that himself suffered execution.

  4. Patt says:

    Good point on the Law only having one option for everyone when it came to the death penalty. I agree that the way we handle it today does not compare and sentences are handed out unfairly and the poor and minorities receive a disproportionately high number of harsher sentences. Looking at it from that angle our system is immoral.

  5. Patt says:

    As for the Law vs. Grace I don’t think it applies when it comes to our justice system on the government level. Turning the other cheek is given to Christians as individuals, the government is still called to hand out justice and punish evil doers just as it was before. See Romans 13.

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