Your first thought was probably, “Who is Ted Rall”. The answer is a mediocre alternative cartoonist who, unlike most of the left, manages to be an eccentric enough thinker to be interesting.
Rall can step outside dogma for a bit, which his comrades generally can’t and don’t. It’s just that once he does step out of the red box, he ends up in strange and terrible places.
At some point he began writing a syndicated column, which if nothing else, is certainly original. Evaluating the death penalty, Rall decides that maybe some murderers do deserve to die… but only at the hands of the family.
Or maybe they can be enslaved. Like in Afghanistan. (See, strange and terrible.)
Assuming that the guilt of death row prisoners like Dennis McGuire could be ascertained with absolute certainty — which is impossible in 100% of capital cases — I would be fine if Stewart’s grieving relatives shot him or garroted or beat him to death. Whatever makes them feel better.
Revenge is fine. Routine murder is not.
I can’t get past the gruesome bureaucratic spectacle of government workers executing people like McGuire (or trying to execute people like Broom) bloodlessly, motivated solely by a paycheck. As a society, we shouldn’t demand that state workers expose themselves to psychic trauma. As a system of justice, the death penalty is dishonest because it masks its true purpose: vengeance.
I can sympathize with Rall’s point of view to some degree, but the death penalty isn’t vengeance. No more than an extended prison term is. It’s the punishment for the crime.
Rall misreads the statement from Stewart’s family, which isn’t gloating over her killer’s pain, but reframing where the compass of sympathy should point against the usual liberal tendency of weeping over killers.
We could go back to tribal killings, but that’s not justice and vengeance is subjective. Law is objective.
That’s what makes us civilized. Vigilantism is what happens when the system breaks down.
In some executions carried out under Sharia law in areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan under Taliban control, the crimes are read out to a crowd of witnesses. Judges ask the victim’s family whether they want the execution carried out or, instead, prefer to offer mercy. (Mercy can vary between outright release to a harsh punishment short of death, for example, an amputation. In a surprising number of cases, families choose forced labor on their farms.)
Here in the United States, on the other hand, executions are often carried out against the wishes of the victims’ families. What’s the point of that?
The point is to have an objective penalty for a crime. It’s not really about what the family wants. The justice system isn’t there to serve their whims. It’s there to ensure that we have a common legal standard.
The death penalty doesn’t devalue human life, it values it. It says that the crime of killing a human being is so severe that it merits the death of the murderer. When the death penalty is eliminated, human life is devalued.
In tribal societies like Afghanistan or for that matter Saudi Arabia, justice isn’t absolute, it’s a factor of the wealth and influence of the individuals involved. Under our legal system, those are a factor, but we don’t accept blood money. Once we’ve reached the point where a finding of fact has been made, the penalty is meant to apply irrespective of the status of the murderer or his family or the victim’s family.
Without that, there is no civilization.