Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Reasons Are Compelling

Retired Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper has a piece in the Huffington Post today that has some good mentions of victim opposition to the death penalty:

Today, if I stare off into the middle distance and let it happen, images of homicide victims queue up, most of them cops I knew, and children. It's been a bad month for both.

"Bam, bam, bam," begins New York Times reporter Timothy Egan's April 8 must-read blog, "The Guns of Spring." Each interjection represents a dead cop: the three Pittsburgh officers recently lured to a residence and gunned down by a man with an AK-47 and several handguns. The second of Egan's paragraph starts with four bams (the Oakland cops slain on March 21), the third with five bams (for each child murdered by their own father here in Washington State), the fourth with 13 bams (the Binghampton, N.Y., immigrants and their teachers).

Fifty-seven people gunned down in mass murders in less than a month.

I'll always have a visceral reaction to the killing of a police officer, especially in ambush; how many times during my career did I stop a car or knock on a door not knowing whether there was a bullet waiting for me? Too many of my own colleagues met precisely that fate. And I have a special, dreaded place in my memory for all the dead kids I saw in my former line of work, many of those young lives taken by a parent.

All this carnage over the past month raises once again the question of what to do with cold-blooded killers. In the logic of 36 states, the answer: kill them.

I have no trouble understanding the urge to kill a killer. He has it coming, doesn't he? Take a man, for example, who kidnaps, rapes, tortures, and kills a child -- how can we possibly justify punishment other than the death? His execution provides closure to loved ones, it sends a message to other would-be killers, right? The rationale for capital punishment is essentially reducible to these two reasons. An eye for an eye, and death as deterrent.

But pressure to end the death penalty is mounting, and reasons for it are compelling.

More and more loved ones of homicide victims are speaking out against executions. As Azim Khamisa told a reporter following the shooting death of his son, Tariq, "I know the pain of losing a child. It's like having a nuclear bomb detonate inside your body, breaking you into small pieces that can never be found. This violence scars the soul forever." But he also had this to say: "...forgiveness is a surer way to peace than an eye for an eye. The more we role-model the death penalty, the more violence and revenge there will be." A similar argument was made by Matthew Shepard's parents in Wyoming, Matthew's father adding that he wanted the men who tortured and killed their son to think each and every day, for the rest of their lives, about what they had done.

Read the rest of the article.

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