Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 9 Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds   

Getting Off the Hook on Capital Punishment

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   5 comments


Late tonight, the state of Pennsylvania will not execute John Eichinger. He will join a growing group of men and women on death row whose executions have been stayed pending the Supreme Court decision in the case of Baze v. Rees. As these lives are, at least temporarily, spared, so also Americans will once again be spared fully confronting the moral implications of capital punishment. 


If the court’s decision in Baze v. Rees finds that execution by means of lethal injection – specifically the use of a three drug “cocktail” - constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, the fate of capital punishment will be thrown into even greater limbo than it is presently. Eventually, due to challenges to its various components, it may be eliminated entirely. But if capital punishment ends only because of these sorts of challenges and not because of a national reckoning with its full meaning, ironic as it may be, Baze v. Rees and cases like it will have let our nation off the hook in a way that cheapens our claim to being a judicious people.


As a result of repeated exonerations, 58% of Americans, according to a poll by the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that provides analysis on capital punishment, agree that a moratorium on executions is necessary until the possibility of wrongful convictions is addressed. There is also wide support for limiting the scope of capital punishment as evidenced by the Supreme Court abolishing the practice for juveniles and the mentally retarded and referring to “evolving standards of decency.” But for most of us, reaching the first conclusion is obvious and the choosing the second position is relatively easy. 


But what if inequity or prosecutorial misconduct of any sort could be eliminated, all the accused had sufficient counsel, there was no possibility of wrongful convictions, no juveniles, or mentally retarded or disabled executed, none with extenuating circumstances? Clearly, this is not possible - but what if it were? For or against, is it right to put a man or woman to death for their crimes? For those who consider it mandatory to have a position on the Iraq war, human rights, the guarantees of the constitution or Roe v. Wade in order to claim to be an engaged citizen, answering “yes” or “no” to his question is mandatory as well.


In fact, that question says as much or more than the other issues about who we are as a people. Particularly, those of us who live with most of our basic needs met. For us, in order to sleep easy while executing another, no matter how brutal or heinous their crime, we must have the talent to distance yourself from that person. Up close, difficult - guards on death row, particularly those involved with the mechanics of the actual execution process, report depression, even PTSD as a result. But safe in our own homes, it is quite possible.


With that talent in hand, we can distance ourselves from others of many descriptions. Executions are not televised; the caskets of soldiers aren’t on the news. Similarly, if we can allow for death by commission, we can allow for it by omission. A man dies by lethal injection at San Quentin; an elderly woman dies in an SRO for lack of medical attention. And that, in turn, entails a talent for ranking, each person becoming a point of reference for our own lives. We end up terrified of being an unfortunate and envious of the more fortunate. The driver of the Honda hands a dollar to the man at the top of the off-ramp and redoubles his efforts to own a Lexus. As much as we don’t want to see the families still living in squalor in the wake of Katrina, we want to watch the Oscars. To read, even to write, that somehow executing a killer has any relation to a desire to watch a movie star walk down a red carpet can seem absurd, but our society is caught up in the artificial, and the death penalty is impossible without that.  


In addition, boiling down the passion for justice that we do have to a necessity for executing one person demonstrates in a microcosm how our politics addresses symptoms rather than causes, thinks short term rather than in the long run and when we get rained on, look down instead of up. One of the unlimited supply of examples: California has been going back and forth on spending as much as $356 million on a new death row facility while the budget for drug rehabilitation programs under its Prop. 36 will be reduced to approximately $100 million in 2008-09.


Finally, what does it say about us when we express our passion for justice by way of retribution rather than compassion?

Next Page  1  |  2

(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).

Rate It | View Ratings

Jonathan Leigh Solomon Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Jonathan Leigh Solomon is a (retired) stand-up comedian who appeared regularly on "Late Night With David Letterman" and the "Late Show With David Letterman." You can read his satire at Politico.Com and or listen to him sharing fact-filled (more...)
Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

A Huge, Huge Mistake Obama Made In His Wonderful, Wonderful Speech

Let Us Now Bash Robin Williams Part. 1



Why Are Senators Worried About Hurting John McCain's Feelings? To Heck With John McCain's Feelings

Obama: Safety First, Heroics Last

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend