by Stephen Foster
Because systems of criminal justice are inherently flawed to the point that few question whether it is probable innocent people are occasionally executed and guilty people are occasionally exonerated, I am against the death penalty. Whether someone is executed by the state is often directly dependent on the quality of the legal defense the accused can afford immediately or soon after being charged.
There is nothing worse, in my view, than an innocent person being executed for a crime that, by definition, he or she did not commit. Whatever is gained by the existence and imposition of the death penalty is not worth the occasional and perhaps inevitable execution of people who are not guilty of the crimes with which they have been charged.
It is no more evil, in my view, to murder someone in cold blood (will malice aforethought) than it is to put to be willing to kill an individual who might be innocent. The willingness to do this – that is, to put someone to death who may actually be innocent – is the evil that precedes and enables the actual act of executing someone who may be innocent. Without the societal willingness to do this, it would not happen.
This is, of course, reminiscent to what happened to Jesus at the hands of Pilate. Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent but, for reasons of political expediency, was willing to satisfy the blood thirst of those who wanted Jesus dead. Conversely, the willingness to die for something that you did not do in order that the guilty does not have suffer the penalty that they deserve is the opposite of the willingness to kill someone who is, or may be, innocent. The former is motivated by love; the latter is motivated by the opposite of love – indifference.
The willingness to execute someone who may be innocent is very, very similar to the willingness to execute someone who is certainly innocent. Perhaps the difference is similar to the difference between that of hate and indifference; in either case, love has nothing to do with it.
As far as hate crime legislation is concerned, to be against such legislation is an admission that you are not willing to give a harsher punishment to the perpetrators of such crimes; and you are therefore willing to protect those who are most often accused of such crimes (no matter who they may be) from harsher penalties.
In hate crime legislation, no one is excluded or treated differently. Such legislation applies to anyone and everyone no matter the race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or political persuasion of the accused/perpetrator.
Now, for those who may, in general, actually favor harsher sentences for crime, to NOT be in favor of harsher penalties for hate crime convictions is evidence of a curious hypocrisy at best. They are, for some strange reason, in effect protective of those who are the more frequent perpetrators of such crimes (whoever they may be).
To be clear, not to mention consistent, I would have much preferred that James Byrd's murderer(s) in the Texas dragging case been given life in prison without the possibility of parole.
If, because of his race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or political persuasion, they had "just" beaten him up — instead of having dragged him to his death — they should then have simply received a more severe sentence than would normally have applied; very much like the aggravated circumstance penalties for assaulting or killing a police officer, or for using a gun in the commission of a crime.
Hate crimes, of course, are not punishments for thoughts; they are punishments for actions. Much like gun crimes are not crimes because of guns, they are crimes because of actions. If someone acts with criminal intent on a thought (which anyone is free to have), it is like acting with criminal intent with a gun (which most adults are likewise free to have).
In point of fact, I actually favor stricter sentences for murder than most currently meted out; in that I do not believe that parole should be considered for people who have been convicted of murdering someone. Life means life, 30 years means 30 years, etc.; I am simply against the death penalty for the reasons I have stated above.
It is my view the legal authorities in Georgia recently committed legal manslaughter; simply because—over two decades later—it was not obvious that Troy Davis was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; and they were hoping the U.S. Supreme Court would bail them out.
Did this also make the Court — by perhaps even a 5-4 vote — “guilty,” beyond a reasonable doubt?