We Shalt Not Kill Either!

<> on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.

As far back as I can remember, I have argued against the death penalty, but so often over the past decade, I found my voice weaker, my stance less certain. The events in Boston yesterday reminded us all of one basic fact that will not be ignored: people suck. We’re not necessarily wrong when we tell ourselves that most people—the overwhelming majority of people–are basically good, even if a few exceptions so often demand our attention. But those exceptions at times open fire on parents carrying infants, putting 5 bullets in an infant because of a grudge with the parent (Brunswick, Ga last month); those exceptions shoot kindergarteners with 30-round magazines while others defend the “right” to kill so effectively; those exceptions plant bombs during crowded events just to maximize the death count, maybe not coincidentally targeting a position where the parents of those kindergarteners stand. So, like an alcoholic repeating a 12-step mantra, like a shark repeating “fish are friends, fish are not food,” I repeat to myself that capital punishment is wrong, even when I find it hard to defend that position.


I do believe it, though, and I have been challenged on that point for decades. The arguments for the death penalty: it acts as a deterrent; it prevents killers from repeat performances; it is less costly than keeping someone alive at taxpayer’s expense. More passionate debaters like to pull this chestnut out, the weakest arrow in their quiver: what if the victim was your daughter? How would you feel then?

It’s galling to know our taxes pay for the three hot meals a day a killer enjoys for the rest of his life, but most research suggests it costs more to kill him. The problem is a little expensive technicality called the US Constitution, which gives these convicts the right to appeal…and appeal…and provides defense lawyers, prosecutor costs, court time, and funds diverted from other law enforcement endeavors. As for the deterrent effect, it would seem to make sense, but I have not seen research to suggest it has a real effect. Murders still occur in Texas, where the death penalty is apparently a risk when you pull off your mattress tag. The ACLU website (yeah, I’m a liberal. Sue me!) points out that the death penalty cannot be a deterrent because it is irregularly employed, so that less than 3% of those convicted of capital offenses actually face that risk. Also, the fact that murders occur very often without premeditation also reduce its deterrent effect (Http://www.aclu.org/capital-punishment/case-against-death-penalty). Finally, to paraphrase Susan Sarandon in “Dead Man Walking,” you don’t teach people not to kill by killing people.

Now, the argument about my daughters, and I’ll use this opportunity to post a picture…


If a convict harmed one of these girls, let me say without hesitation that I would be FOR the death penalty, as I would be FOR my personal administration of the death penalty. In fact, I would use my nails and my teeth as the instruments of the death penalty. How that would make the death penalty “right” is beyond me. If I had to deal with the stress of the loss of a child, the loss of one of those little amazing creatures who leave me in awe every day, I couldn’t be trusted to balance my checkbook or tie my own shoes, let alone decide how society should best determine the fate of its worst citizens.

Today, I was going to write about something lighthearted.  “How Best to Decorate your Living Room Using Marshmallows.” It felt wrong to write about pillows while CNN played in the background. Today is yet another day to shake our heads and wonder how people among us can be so depraved.  How do we best deal with guys like this…

But we shouldn’t kill him. I believe that for a reason that may sound weaker than any of the arguments above, and I understand my reason will convince no one. It’s not a God reason, or a “good for society” reason. We just can’t kill. It’s not right…ever. Life isn’t ours to take. We can’t take it away. Period.

Yet in times like now, I come back to the same argument. People suck. What do we do about it? We keep waking up because instead of focusing on the Lanzas, the Mansons of the world, because we get to focus on our own versions of this…


I’m shameless, I know.

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About Robert Phillips

Robert Phillips is a Miami lawyer still deciding what he wants to do for a living. Once a lover of Pynchon, Pinter, and any other artist whose work he barely understood, he has since "come home" to genre fiction and fandom, where he truly belongs. He focuses most of his fan-attention on his wife Elena and his three little girls, who will one day be a female president, a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and a supermodel/astrophysicist. (He's not sure which one will be which yet.)

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