From Pine View Farm

Death Watch 0

Leonard Pitts, Jr., looks at death penalty supporters through the lens of the Republican debate.

Full disclosure: I oppose the death penalty, not because I think it is morally wrong (I am convinced that some persons do deeds so heinous that they forfeit their right to be allowed in society), but because we get it wrong just too damned often.

It was a chilling moment, but also a clarifying one in that it validated the grimmest suspicions about at least some of those who support capital punishment. That support, after all, is often framed in terms of high morality, the argument being that only in taking an offender’s life can a society truly express its revulsion over certain heinous crimes.

But when the audience at a recent GOP presidential debate cheered the observation that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has overseen a record 234 executions, that fig leaf was swept away. You knew this was not about some profound question for philosophers and august men. No, this was downturned thumbs in a Roman arena, vengeance putting on airs of justice, the need to see someone die.

People dress that need up in rags of righteousness and ethicality, but occasionally, the disguise slips and it shows itself for what it is: the atavistic impulse of those for whom justice is synonymous with blood. If people really meant the arguments of high morality, you’d expect them to regard the death penalty with reverent sobriety. You would not expect them to cheer.

Mr. Pitts goes on to discuss one of the cases in which the chances are good that we got it wrong once more.


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