The very fact that our nation’s highest court is weighing in on the amount of cruelty we can inflict upon those we put to death suggests we’ve taken a wrong turn. And yet the very subject invites some to ask why we should even care about the feelings of rapists or murderers.
Here’s why we need to care. We need to care because our justice system demands it. Regardless of where we stand on the appropriateness of a death penalty, we must agree that the administration of any punishment must be done in the absence of passion or cruelty. Whether we’re putting someone to death, locking them up for shoplifting, interrogating them in a criminal case or holding them while we determine their legal residency status, we must be adamant in our commitment to do so in a way that’s free from resentment or rage… or amusement.
Why is this so important? It is important because when we allow anger and apathy to seep into our justice system we begin to do unjust things. We keep prisoners in tents whose temperatures reach 114 degrees. We lock them in solitary confinement and laugh as we watch them die of a seizure. We surround them at a traffic stop and kick them in the stomach and face while they lay handcuffed and helpless. We end up with a Supreme Court justice who erupts in a blind rage when his fitness is questioned. We end up with a president who admonishes police not to “go so easy” on suspects when apprehending them, a president who leads cheers of “lock them up” whenever he brings up a political opponent.
We lose our way.
The very existence of a criminal justice system is an agreement where the public allows its government to suspend – or even eliminate – some of the rights outlined in our constitution. In doing so we expect our government to exercise this power with the utmost care and respect, even for those accused or convicted of the most serious offenses. Because to do otherwise invites vengeance into our system. Vengeance and justice cannot coexist; one will always replace the other.
I’m reminded of how in our country, there are politicians advocating for the death penalty in response to the supposed drug menace, when there has generally been no evidence to show the death penalty deters crime. The last time we had the death penalty, only one convict was ever executed, the country did not have the stomach for it. I imagine (based only on the perceived behavior of our politicos) that those advocating for the death penalty do not really have deterrence in mind, but rather punishment - they wish to cruelly punish the offender to satisfy the bloodlust of the populace. i.e. Vengeance, not justice.