Sacred Essay, Research Paper
Good Afternoon, I am honored to be here, and I thank you for having me. Today I would like to speak to you about a very controversial issue- capital punishment. What do those two words mean to you? To most people they mean a murder victims family receiving justice for their deceased. Let me see a show of hands. How many people in the audience believe in the death penalty? I conducted a weeklong survey of two hundred people of all ages. The purpose was to see how many people believed in the death penalty and how many opposed it. My results are shown on this overhead. As you can clearly see, 98% believe in the death penalty. 57% believe that the death penalty is a deterrent for murder. A high of 97% of the people favor capital punishment, where 1% think that our justice system should not be more lenient on death row inmates. Only 89% think that once convicted of murder, an inmate should be sentenced to death immediately. I would like to take this time to tell you a story. On August 15, 1997, the Reverend John Miller preached a sermon at the Martha Vineyards Tabernacle in New Hampshire. He told his congregation, which included the vacationing President Clinton and his wife, that capital punishment is wrong. I invite you to look at a picture of Timothy McVeigh and to forgive him, said Miller. If we profess to be Christians, then we are called to love and forgive.Once the sermon ended, Rev. Miller, Clinton, and their wives got together for brunch at the Sweet Life Cafi. What the Rev. did not know was that 24-year-old Jeremy T Charron; an Epsom New Hampshire police officer was gunned down in cold blood just hours before Millers sermon on forgiving murderers. That Sunday marked Charrons 44th day as a full time police officer, the job he dreamed of since he was 6 years old. Jeremy Charron leaves behind his parents, two sets of grandparents, two sisters, two brothers, a wide circle of friends, and a girlfriend whose engagement ring he had begun to shop for. Maybe the Reverend Miller would advise those grieving for Charron to look at pictures of Gordon Perry, the robber accused of pumping the bullets into Charrons heart, and 18 year old Kevin Paul, the accomplice, and forgive. The state of New Hampshire has opted not to forgive, but to prosecute. Perry has been charged with capital murder. If he is convicted, the state will seek the death penalty for the first time since 1939. Jeanne Shepard, the democratic governor, says a capital murder prosecution will put criminals On notice that if they kill a police officer in New Hampshire, they will face the death penalty. What if they kill someone other than a cop? Should criminals not be put on notice that they will face the death penalty if they kill a cashier in cold blood? A farmer, or a schoolteacher? They should- but the law says otherwise. In New Hampshire as in all states with the death penalty, murder can be punished with execution only in specific circumstances. The murder of an officer in the line of duty is one of them. Among others are murder combined with rape, murder for higher, and murder in the course of kidnapping. First degree murder is not punishable by death. One who willfully murders a cashier is no less evil then the murderer of a police officer. Both have committed the worst crime. Both should be subjected to the worst possible punishment. That is justice. Standing in the way of that justice, however, are the likes of Rev. Miller, who brim with such pity for criminals that they have none left over for the victims. Forgive Timothy McVeigh, he says, as if we have that right. Absolve the man who slaughtered 168 innocent men, women, and children in Oklahoma City. Pardon the killer of Officer Charron. Nothing could be more sinful and indecent. How sad that Miller, enjoying his brunch with the president at the Sweet Life Cafi, should lack compassion for the sweet life of others. Executions at U.S. prisons reached a 40- year high last year. There are going to be more executions in the future as these cases are speeded up, as a result of federal and state laws shortening the appeal process. I would now like to direct your attention to the overhead. The following chart shows statistics of the number of executions per state for the 1997 year. Currently there are only 12 states without the death penalty. Those states are Hawaii, Alaska, West Virginia, Washington D.C., Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North Dakota. The U.S. has over 1.5 million incarcerated in prisons, by far the largest system in the world, and that does not include those in jail. The tough-on-crime politicians, of course, are elected by promising bigger and better jails for those scum bags. I once heard someone say, Building jails to lessen crime is like building more cemeteries to prevent AIDS. Prison building is the fastest growing industry in America. In fact, prisons can no longer be called prisons. The politically correct term is correction-industrial complexes. Gene Amole is a writer for the New York Times who opposes the death penalty. As experiences show, there is no closure, when the one who did the killing is executed. There is a very real climate of revenge and retribution in this country. What we need is restorative justice and healing. Mr. Amole comments on the sixth commandment, (it) is so simple, so easy to understand, Thou Shalt Not Kill. There is nothing that I can see that permits us to commit premeditated institutional murder, which is exactly what capital punishment is.Gene Amole is not the only one against capital punishment. In May of 1998, Newsday magazine spoke out against capital punishment, saying that its only purpose is revenge, that it is not a deterrent to murder, and the goal of our society should be keeping killers off the streets. [Murder deserves Life In Jail, Not Death Penalty, May 26]. Gerald Deutsh, of Port Washington, speaks out against the article in a letter to the editor. I am not sure that the death penalty is a deterrent, but if it is not, we certainly need to have some sort of deterrence built into our criminal justice system. Keeping killers Off the Streetis not sufficient, especially if where we put them is a place that may (to them) be a better place then where they came from. Deutsh has an important point. Suppose to a killer, prison is not so terrible. Suppose the killer is used to a prison environment where all of his needs are taken care of, and suppose, further, that he is able to command respect from his fellow inmates. Is it not possible that such a person can prefer a life in prison rather than having to go out into our world to earn a living? To such a person it is conceivable that a prison sentence maybe more of a reward than a punishment. Deutsh said whether the death penalty is a deterrent, I think we must philosophically consider suitable punishments to incorporate into our criminal justice system that will serve as a deterrent for violent crimes, not only those crimes that now provide for the death penalty. Denver Archbishop Charles Chadput placed a statement on his Internet site last year, condemning capital punishment. Killing our guilty is still wrong. It does not honor the dead. It does not ennoble the living,said Chadput. Frank Keating counteracted the Bishops statement by saying (he) hopes that I dont get driven into the sea because I am a catholic, for supporting the death penalty. Most Catholics would agree that murderers should die. How many people do we have to see killed before it is justified?he asked. The Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke on CBS Face The Nation on June 9 1997. The concept of an eye for an eye ultimately leaves us blind and disfigured.Psychiatrist James Gilligan has studied societys most violent people. The experience has left Gilligan discounting what he describes as the underlying theory pervading our criminal justice system. The theory of rational self-interest. This theory assumes that violent people act out of common sense, do not want to go to prison, and do not wish to die. According to this premise, Gilligan writes, All we have to do to prevent violent crime is threaten violent people with capital punishment. There are four things wrong with this theory, said Gilligan. It is totally incorrect, hopelessly naove, dangerously misleading, and based on complete and utter ignorance of what violent people are really like.Gilligans theories are based on his experiences as Director of Mental Health for the Massachusetts prison system, Medical Director of the Bridgewater (Mass.) State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and Director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard University Medical School. A heinous crime occurs and most people ask the inevitable question: Who are these people capable of such inhuman acts? According to Gilligan, they generally are ordinary people who often describe themselves as robots, zombies, nonentities, and even vampires. In a 1977 courtroom, convicted serial killer Ted Bundy said many things about himself. Among those descriptions were; Sometimes I feel like a vampire, and Im the most cold blooded son of a bitch youll ever meet. Murderers frequently mutilate themselves in prison, cutting their arms, swallowing razor blades, blinding or castrating themselves- because feeling something, even pain, is better than feeling nothing. People who wind up committing murder are often the survivors of attempted murder themselves, or of a child abuse that is so severe, that if they were not strong, they would not have survived. David Berkowitz was the Son of Sam serial killer. The press at one time asked him why he killed so many people. He replied, I always had a certain fetish for murder and death. Berkowitz was jolted to kill when he found out a family secret. He was an accident, a mistake, never meant to be born. He had always been told that his birth mother had been killed during labor. What he found out was it was just a lie to cover up the fact that his real mother did not even care about him. Once he discovered the truth, he vowed to find the woman that cast him aside. When asked by a friend what he would do when he found her, he said, Im not going to rob her. Im not going to touch her or rape her. All I want to do is kill her.Gilligans hypothesis is that the common underlying cause of violence is shame. Violent behavior only results when three other conditions occur: 1) The individual does not see himself as having any nonviolent means to gain respect or find justice. 2) The shame and humiliation are so overwhelming they threaten to destroy the persons sense of self. 3) The violent impulses stimulated in all of us by feelings of humiliation are not inhibited by guilt, remorse, empathy, or love. The character Hannible Lechter, as shown in this clip from the movie Silence of the Lambs explains it best. Rather than punishment, Gilligan said, one proven approach to reducing violence is education, especially a college degree. Several years ago, Gilligan conducted a study in the Massachusetts Prison system in which more than two hundred inmates, including those that were convicted murderers, earned degrees and were released from prison. So far, not one repeat offender has been found. Gilligan said We know that the single most effective factor which reduces the rate of recidivism in the prison population is education, and yet education in the prisons is the first item to be cut when an administration gets tough on crime. If our goal is to reduce crime and violence, we would benefit all law abiding members of society if we made college education available in the prisons. Gilligan said he is amazed by how inarticulate and incoherent many violent prisoners are. They have never learned to express themselves. They have never had anyone to listen to them and take their thoughts seriously. If we can get them to talk about their life experiences, we immediately give them an alternative. If we can provide these men with an alternative to violent behavior, they will use it. The best way to get people to act like human beings is to treat them like human beings. Gilligan acknowledges that some violent criminals are so severely damaged and dangerous they simply can never live out in society again. But the emphasis, he said, must be on restraining and quarantining, rather than punishment. Over time, even the most deeply damaged people can recover a great deal of the humanity that they have lost; even the deadest could be restored to some semblance of humanity if given a humane enough environment, said Gilligan. I now leave the decision up to you. I have given you both the pros and cons on the issue of capital punishment. If you choose to remember only one point of my speech tonight let it be this quote of human beings by Henry Ford. None are good but all are scared. Even the most horrendous criminal is a human being with a soul, and that soul is scared.