Death penalty is cold-blooded revenge
The conviction of Steven Wright and Levi Belfield for murder has seemingly re-opened one of the most popular of criminological debates, particularly among the red top newspapers: Should we bring back the death penalty?It seems to periodically re-surface when the more extreme cases of homicide come to light. In many ways it is a discussion that I feel inclined to avoid writing about, preferring to believe that as a society we have moved beyond narrow retributive in terms of punishment and entered into a more considered and enlightened phase. I have little sympathy for individuals the likes of those mentioned above. I
I have sympathy with the families who have lost their loved ones. But I have little sympathy for the death penalty either, because, ultimately however we dress it up the issue of the death penalty is one of revenge - no more.
I can wholly empathise with the view that they hold that Belfield and Wright should pay the ultimate price, and I would hasten to add that I have never been in their position, never felt their loss and cannot comprehend the sense of pain that must be felt when a family member is taken from you in such horrific circumstances.
I would also state now, that I would concur with those who would point out that it is all well and good for me, removed from the realities of grief, suffering and loss to take against the ills of the death penalty.
I know full well, that should someone have done that to one of my family, I would want to administer the final act of vengeance myself. That is the reason that should I ever be the victim, I would and should be removed from that option. That is about revenge, and not about justice, and it is justice that our criminal justice system should be concerned with delivering.
Of course, it is easier to disguise that fact now. I recently witnessed Michael Portillo on the BBC science programme Horizon searching for a 'humane' way to deliver capital punishment. To me, that is a paradox, an utter contradiction. Surely killing isn't humane.
Yet In the modern world, it seems we often present capital punishment as if it is not an exercise in power, or revenge, but an act of humanity: The killing state kills, yet it strives to legitimate killing by representing it the act as if it is painless, sterile medical procedure. The lethal injection, behind-the-scenes can be procedural; the offender's life is terminated with a minimum of pain and physical suffering (seemingly) just like in America in the case of Timothy McVeigh.
Interestingly the one person who took exception with Portillo's quest was the American academic advocating the death penalty, who suggested revulsion at the idea of execution without pain, making it clear vengeance should rightly be the motive along the lines 'you think the poor victims don't suffer when these monsters slit their throats and beat the life from them'. At least his was an admission that revenge is the motive underscoring the death penalty, and his lack of human concern for those who offended was not shielded away.
Yes, in some cases the perpetrators' are monsters; in some cases they may be evil; but by refusing to sanction the killing act, we make ourselves better than them. We re-enforce our humanity.
Even behind closed doors, delivered in a 'seemingly' humane way, the death penalty is, for me, a sordid, brutal and ugly because it is vengeance. Death fuelled by vengeance, and in the clamour for vengeance the perpetrators get to kill again.
If the death penalty were re-introduced Wright and Belfield would surely have got it, yet they would have got something else. They would have got to kill a piece of our collective humanity and take it with them.