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Hypocrisy & The Death Penalty

“A human system is not capable of perfection. Government does nothing flawlessly. Government cannot flawlessly kill people. If you give government the power to kill people, you are giving government the power to make mistakes killing people, and government will make those mistakes.” – Lawrence O’Donnell

Arguing for or against the death penalty has never been something that I’m either passionate about arguing, or even talking about. Mainly because there’s a million other things that have always struck me as more important, but also because it’s something I don’t want to argue. Nobody wants the death penalty when an innocent man is being executed, but you’ll get no argument when somebody “deserves it.”

Basically, we make judgements on when it’s right to kill somebody, and when it’s wrong. Granted, we do that in war, but that’s with people not citizens of the United States. The Death Penalty is the State holding up its ultimate right to take a life of its citizens, a tax-paying constituent, and an American on American soil.

Frankly, when it comes to decisions like these that I’ll never have to make unless I became a politician, or I have no passion for, I simply stay out. This is why when Troy Davis was executed, I kept silent. Partially because I didn’t know the particular manners of the case and if the guy was innocent, but also because I knew that if I said something either way, I would be making a decision in regards to my opinion on the Death Penalty. Because, if I say he’s innocent, then the only way to stop his probably wrongful death is to stop the death penalty all together. Because, the death penalty is employed by people, people make mistakes, so as long as there’s a death penalty, there will always be another Troy Davis.

This is a point that Lawrence O’Donnell especially hammers home in his “Rewrite” segment on his MSNBC show, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.” Now with full-disclosure, Lawrence is a liberal, but he is a decent anchorman when news breaks, he’s a good questioner, and like his MSNBC college, Rachel Maddow, he knows how to make a compelling, smart and rational argument, which is rare on cable news nowadays. This is one of those arguments. I urge you to watch the whole thing, and to consider the point he’s making.

So, what’s the thesis of O’Donnell’s monologue? The Death Penalty isn’t an issue you can go part-way on. By having an opinion either way on the death penalty, then you either support its use fully, or you’re completely against it, and say it should be used on nobody. But then O’Donnell basically goes further and essentially says that those who only protest it when an innocent is at stake, then you’ll never get anything done. Not only is this media fervor surrounding it few and far between, but innocent lives being taken because of it are few and far between. You have to protest it on the whole. You have to protest it when despicable people are being put to death, you have to protest it when innocent people are being put to death.

Why is Troy Davis’ execution so different? Because he got media attention around it. He got T-Shirts. He got slogans attached to it in, “I am Troy Davis.” He got the support of prominent people. What about the countless others being executed? They get nothing. Their story doesn’t get told. Why? Because they can’t get the media attention.

Why? Either their story or evidence isn’t compelling enough, or because they actually did something horrible beyond a reasonable doubt, and nobody wants to fight for them. So, because nobody wants to fight for them, their death is essentially being sanctioned. We’re saying, “I don’t want to waste the investment of support in stopping your death, because we might actually be right in taking your life.”

So, there we go again, saying there are right and wrong ways to do the death penalty, and we just have to do it right. It’s a fallacy of both rhetoric and morals, or at least that’s what O’Donnell argues. If he’s right, then surely we can also apply that logic to whether it’s right to kill in war. Whether is was right or wrong to kill Osama Bin Laden. Or to kill for any reason. Or can we?

I’m purposefully leaving the debate open because I don’t have the answers, but I do want us to think about the whole issue. Like all issues in this country, we can’t tackle them all, so we just decide what’s most important to us, and whichever issue has the most momentum of change, wins the lottery. I doubt the death penalty will reach that stage for a long time, but until it does, you might want to search out the issue before having an opinion, and stating it. I for one, will continue thinking and searching.

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  1. paradoctor
    September 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    O’Donnell’s point, and I agree, is that you can’t trust the government with such power.

  2. paulpriest
    September 23, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    There’s a simple solution — require a higher standard of proof for execution, beyond a SHADOW of a doubt. Then Mason and Mason and Breuer can get what they deserve, and Davis can get extra time to prove his innocence.

  3. Bruce Gillespie
    September 24, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Didn’t somebody once say: “Thou shall not kill’? Who the Hell does any one (or state, for that matter) think he or she is killing anyone, ever?

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