Friday, June 19, 2009

The Death Penalty in California, Again

I understand there is the possibility of starting executions at San Quentin again! I strongly object to the existence of the death penalty -- either in Marin County, where I live, or in my beloved state of California, or, for that matter, anywhere. So many problems with executions:

1) That "thou shalt not kill" thing, which is expressed in all major religions.

2) I understand it's hugely expensive for the state to kill the condemned, even more expensive than keeping them penned up for life. I'm not entirely certain why, as this seems illogical, but it's also insanely expensive to warehouse them, so you have -- no, WE the People have a problem, and it's a big one. Many of us have seen these prison shows flash by us, and it is or should be clear that our prison system as it is now is a terrible, almost medieval reflection upon our society. I don't understand a society that spends millions to kill a man and won't spend dollars to keep after-school programs open. What hope is there for spiritual strength in a society that allows such degrading treatment of other human beings?

3) We don't always execute the right people, do we? No, and in fact besides killing a bunch of innocent people we still have unknown numbers of them confined like lab animals in our massive gulags. American exceptionalism. And don't get me started on those dreadful pot smokers incarcerated for nothing, in my opinion.

But back to the death penalty and those criminals sentenced to die. What's the hurry to get these benighted souls off the planet? They'll just reincarnate again before you know it, probably not having learned a thing, ready to raise fresh hell all over again.

You'll notice I don't count that last statement as "4" as it's obviously a belief based on a religion including reincarnation as a tenet, which certainly doesn't make it true. Even if I believe it, find it logical and think everyone else should see things as I do, they don't. I have a fine opinion of myself and my belief system, but I have no more business foisting what I believe on others than they do on me. Except -- for some this question is literally and obviously a matter of life and death, and this is EXACTLY when the code of Law informed by the best that is in us must be applied.

The truth is, we don't know what it does to us as human beings to take a life, to participate in what future archaeologists might see as a pagan ritual "sacrifice" of human life, only slightly less violent than older civilizations. I imagine explorers from another era finding our electric chairs and gas chambers and wonder what they would think. We don't know what "to kill" really comes down to in its entirety; we do know and have always known that it is a serious thing indeed, and I don't trust us as a society to make this call at all anymore. When a country fails to follow its own laws or international laws, makes war against tin pot tyrants for suspicious motivations and obstructs the investigation of high crimes against humanity -- like any other relationship where you've been lied to, the trust is gone.

Ultimately, I just don't like the idea of the State being involved in executions, given how very badly bureaucracies tend to function. And that's #4!

I think, with our packed death rows and our burgeoning prison population living in subhuman conditions, that we have become a violator of human rights in deep denial of our sins against humanity. We've got to clean up our act. Even if we, with our terribly inefficient bureaucracy, make our executions a thrifty, perfectly painless process, and are NEVER wrong about whom we kill, we'll still always, ALWAYS be left with "thou shalt not kill" to reflect upon.