Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Death Penalty in California

Last Tuesday, we had a presentation on the death penalty.  It's a timely topic, because here in California, people are working to get the death penalty replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.  This proposed law will mostly likely be on the ballot in November.

What struck me as the most interesting part of the event was seeing the different reactions of the family members of murder victims.  Some of them were staunch supporters of the death penalty; others work hard to eradicate it.  I was interested to see such a wide range of different reactions and emotions about the death penalty, from people who are usually grouped together as "the same" in the philosophical tracts I've read.

Personally, I do not support the death penalty, and I will vote to get rid of it in November, if given the chance.

There are many problems with the death penalty.  Killing is immoral.  The death penalty costs too much money.  It does not do an adequate enough job of deterring crimes.  The system is imperfect, and the possibility of innocent people being condemned to die still exists; in fact, we know for certain that this has happened many times in the past.  In California, there seems to be an element of racism in the use of the death penalty; latinos and blacks are killed at a much higher rate than whites.

Going back to the family members of murder victims, though, you sometimes hear the argument that the death penalty is good, because it brings peace to the family members of the victim.  I don't think I can agree with that.  The people from families where the killer received the death penalty were just as affected as the people from families where the killer got away.  Yes, it should bring a sense of righteous satisfaction to learn that a killer has been brought to justice and appropriately punished, no matter what the punishment is.  However, that doesn't replace the lost life.  It might appease some people's sense of vengeance, but it doesn't take away the pain of losing a family member.

Of course, I'm Catholic, and the church teaches that all life is sacred, including the lives of killers, fetuses and disabled people.  A lot of people are surprised to learn that the Catholic Church officially opposes the death penalty. I don't find that information surprising at all. The Catholic Church comes from Jesus, who was sentenced to the death penalty by the local government, even though he was innocent of any crimes. Also, for the past 2,000 years, there has always been a place, somewhere in the world, where Catholicism has been outlawed and punished with the death penalty.


Anonymous said...

When it comes to California, I agree, it is time to abolish the death penalty there. If my recollection is correct, the last time California used its death penalty was in 2006, and it has only used 13 times since it was reinstated nationally in 1976. California isn’t like Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, or Florida, where the death penalty is used pretty regularly, so it really doesn’t make sense that California still has it. If California isn’t going to use it, then they should abolish it and stop wasting money on a practice they haven’t utilized in six years.

On the other hand, the death penalty can sort of be used to get certain kind of closure. Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, was facing execution until he agreed to disclose the location of his victims’ remains in exchange for life without parole (it is amazing how many serial or mass murderers are terrified of the death penalty and will sing like a canary to avoid facing their own death.) So, I agree that it is expensive, doesn’t totally bring closure to those left behind, and has been abused, but it’s a great tool to have in your back pocket. If Washington State didn’t have the death penalty to threaten Ridgeway with, I seriously doubt he would have told investigators where to find the remains of the rest of his victims, and then those girls’ families would still be left wondering where their daughters are. Their girls may be gone, and true, killing Ridgeway isn’t going to bring them back, but at least the families can have the closure of burying their loves ones.

Anonymous said...

And the people who say that they are surprised that the Catholic Church is against the death penalty! A message to them: PAY ATTENTION TO ALL SIDES!

Miriam said...

If it weren't for the fact that some of Gary Ridgeway's victims *still* haven't been found, I'd say he should still get the death penalty. Yeesh. That guy is a terrible person.

Oh, and did I mention that I live in King County, where he killed all of his victims? The Green River itself isn't that far from here. :/ That example is pretty "close to home" for me.

Anonymous said...


True, not all his victims have been found, allegedly because Ridgeway said he couldn’t remember where they all were. I don’t know if that is true or not, or if Ridgeway just like screwing with people and enjoyed having power over them like Bundy did, but he did disclose the location of lot of his victims, so at least some families were able to get their girls back, and I personally believe he wouldn't have reveled anything if he hadn’t been threatened with the death penalty. I agree, I think Ridgeway should have died just because he is poor excuse for a human being, but if keeping him alive meant some families could finally bury their loved ones, I am willing to bend. At that point, I think it should be about what the majority of those left behind want, and in Ridgeway’s case, the majority wanted to know their girls’ fate at the cost of letting Ridgeway live, so I think the D.A.’s office did the right thing in that case.

Really, you live in King County? That’s pretty neat! Despite everything that happened there, I always love looking at the Green River-I can see how it got its name! XD

Kira said...

I find it just a smidge ironic that we kill people who kill people. We don't rape rapists, so why do we kill killers? It does nothing. If we are trying to work ourselves towards a more peaceful world, the death penalty should be abolished.

Rena said...

Well, in a kind of twisted way, we do rape rapists. People who rape adults are at almost at the bottom of the food chain in prison, preceded only by snitches, people who rape children, and people who kill children, so we put rapists in an environment where there is a very good chance they will be harmed themselves, and in a rapist’s case, they are usually raped themselves by other inmates. Most of the time, prison officials don’t do anything about it because it is the prison hierarchy and they don’t have the man power to protect everybody who needs it in prison, so we kind of do rape rapists by putting them in an environment where we know something is probably going to happen and then look the other way.

Anonymous said...

"He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death." ~Exodus 21:12


Anonymous said...

I live in Texas and have heard of death sentences frequently. In my family we are composed of God-fearing Southern Baptists. Though this denomination may be took differently, we do celebrate the sancity of human life. When the time comes to vote for it all (if given), I believe that abortion and the death penalty should be abolished. For God views all sins to be equal and none over the other. Whether you told a white lie or killed someone, Jesus still loves you. So slay the "mighty killing dragon" and demolish laws not valuing human life!