Sunday, May 17, 2015
The Pain of the Penalty
I thought that when I sat down to type out a blog post, the thing that would want to come out is my response to the Pew Research Study on religion in the country. That is on my mind, and I am sure I will write on that soon enough. But after some exchanges on Facebook last night, I feel that the more pressing need is to spell out why I am sorry that the jury in Boston returned the death penalty in the case of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev.
Let me start with saying that I don't like him. In fact, I find it very hard to find any love for this guy. He killed people, maimed many others, and he scarred a city and an event that is usually a really joyful time in the spring. I don't call him a monster. But I do see him as a force for evil. The fact that he doesn't seem to care about anyone beside himself is proof to me that he is residing in Hell and doesn't seem to mind that. Do I believe he should pay for his crimes? Absolutely! I am glad that he, unlike his brother, was captured and made to stand trial for what he did. That is much more satisfying than allowing him to go out in a firefight with police officers, or taking his own life. I want him to pay for what he did.
And this begins my disagreement with the death verdict. I am not going to lie: I oppose capital punishment. And I will go into all that in a moment. But one of the chief reasons I oppose it in this case is that I believe it is far too easy for us, the sane people who don't kill other people with homemade bombs, to believe that this is "what he deserves." The fact is that the Tsarnaev brothers were clearly willing to die for their unjust cause. They did not want to be taken in alive, and it probably frustrated the younger brother that he didn't die from his bullet wounds. As such, giving him a death sentence, in my opinion, has just given him what he wanted: a chance to be a martyr in his cause for anti-American Islam-gone-bad. He will be allowed to have his beliefs confirmed that the "Great Satan" is killing him as it has killed so many of his brethern. This was the motivation for the bombing in the first place. Why, then, would we want to fulfill that thought? Would it not be more "what he deserves" if he is forced to sit in a 6x9 cell in Terre Haute, Indiana, contemplating his failed mission for the rest of his life?
In my online back and forth with friends of a friend on Facebook (aside: this is never a good idea to get into one of these, but I just couldn't help myself), I was struck with the fact that a person would think that my position, life in prison with no possibility of parole, would be considered "coddling" the murderer. Others on the thread were putting out the usual misrepresentations of prisons being like a stay at the Ritz Carlton, or maybe even a Motel 6. These are people who have never seen the inside of a prison and have no idea what the conditions are really like. Prison is no picnic. I don't know about the rest of the country, but air-conditioning? No, there is no AC. The state legislature in Florida made sure of that a long time ago. And in Florida, that is brutal. In prison, you have no freedom. None. You are always being told what to do and when to do it. And you are surrounded by sociopaths. If you are someone who has done harm to a child, you are considered vile even among sociopaths, and given that there was an 8-year-old boy among the dead in Boston, you can bet that Tsarnaev will be a target.
Will he be living in prison at "taxpayers expense"? Why, yes, he will. And the post-convinction appeals process will also be at taxpayers expense, and it is very costly as the laws continuously shift like large glaciers. The road to an execution is not cheap, and in the end, comes pretty close to being the same price as if we had locked up the inmate and thrown away the key. His three meals a day, again, are not going to be an All You Can Eat buffet, or sushi or whatever. It will be kind of like gruel. Yuck.
What about the victims and their families? Why don't I care about them? That is probably the most insulting thing to say not just to me, but about them. We have fed the public a lie that the death penalty will be bring about closure. It may do that for some, but only once the execution happens, and it won't happen for several years. So, instead, we make the families relive the horror as the appeals process goes on and on. Some, like a declared candidate for president from a large Southern state, have attempted as Governor to "speed up" that process. But frankly, that's not an answer, especially in a civilized society where we shouldn't be rushing to kill people before every assurance is there that this is the right thing to do. Now, in the Tsarnaev case where his guilt was never in doubt, he may reach his execution date faster. But once he's dead, will this do anything to bring the other innocent dead back to life? No. Will it regenerate limbs on the maimed? No. Will it make him a martyr to madness? Yes. The families deserved immediate closure, and a life sentence without the possibility of parole would have given them that closure. He would be gone, dead to society if not actually dead. Now they'll have to wait. It is interesting to note that the family of the youngest victim, Martin Richard, asked that the prosecution not seek the death penalty. News outlets didn't seem to seek them out on the day of the verdict, but were certain to find those who were pleased with this "eye for an eye" approach.
But this is the jury's verdict and we have to respect that. Well, this is America, and I am free to disagree with the outcome of a jury verdict in the same way that I disagreed with the George Zimmerman case and the O.J. Simpson case. Besides, juries are "death qualified," meaning that when they are assembled, the prosecution has been very careful to find people they believe will return a death sentence. And even though the majority of people in Massachusetts are anti-death penalty, there are still many who have no problem killing a person if they are no longer a person, but a monster.
I am sorry for the victims of this senseless and horrible tragedy. I only wish that the sentencing would have put a real period to this whole mess. Sadly, I don't think it has. And true justice has to wait.