I believe the death penalty should be abolished.
For a long time, I waffled over the issue. On one hand, I honestly felt that killing was wrong, but then I would hear horrific descriptions of what a soon to be executed killer had done and my reaction was “Yeah, fry the bastard.”
It was Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing that changed my mind. Now here was a bastard who definitely deserved to be fried. He drove a truck full of explosives up to the Murrah Federal Building, fully aware of the daycare center on the first floor, where there were at least a couple dozen babies and toddlers.
He knew he was killing children.
McVeigh’s justification for the bombing was that it was in response to the siege by federal agents of David Karesh’s Waco, Texas compound. The standoff between Karesh and the Feds ended when the compound burst into flames. Depending on who you listen to, the fire was set either by Karesh going out in a blaze of glory, or agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms hoping to take him out for good. It was this second version of events which McVeigh believed.
He was also angry about a similar incident at Ruby Ridge and the execution of a leader of the militia movement.
The bombing was an act of revenge.
When I read about McVeigh’s reasons for this atrocity, I could see the possibility of more revenge bombings happening if McVeigh were executed. And then I realized that capital punishment is in reality state sponsored revenge. It has to stop.
Death penalty proponents ask me how I’d feel about capital punishment if it were my daughter who was raped and killed.
I know exactly how I’d feel. I’d want to go after the monster who killed her with a machete and hack him to pieces. Then I’d most likely want him to come back to life so I could kill him again. I would want to inflict as much pain and agony on him as I possibly could.
I do not want the state acting on behalf of my worst instincts. And I don’t believe the execution is humane or any less cruel just because it’s been made painless.
The National Coalition for the Abolishment of the Death Penalty (NCADP) gives these reasons for opposing state sponsored killing:
"First and foremost, the death penalty devalues all human life - eliminating the possibility for transformation of spirit that is intrinsic to humanity. Secondly, the death penalty is fallible and irrevocable - over one hundred people have been released from death row on grounds of innocence in this "modern era" of capital punishment. Thirdly, the death penalty continues to be tainted with race and class bias. It is overwhelmingly a punishment reserved for the poor (95% of the over 3700 people under death sentence could not afford a private attorney) and for racial minorities (55% are people of color). Finally, the death penalty is a violation of our most fundamental human rights - indeed, the United States is the only western democracy that still uses the death penalty as a form of punishment."
Timothy McVeigh died believing he was a martyr to his own cause. If he’d been given a life sentence without parole, maybe one day he’d have gotten out of bed and finally realized he had killed children. That what he had done in the name of freedom was wrong.
Abolishing the death penalty does not mean the inmates on death row will get away with murder. Life in prison is a miserable life, and if the killer lives a long time, that’s a lot of misery. And if it turns out he was wrongly convicted, we have the opportunity to make it right.
Except of course, in Texas, where they’ve never executed an innocent man.