Sunday, May 17, 2015
Tsarnaev should die
When I heard that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been sentenced to death for the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, my immediate, unfiltered reaction was "good." I don't think that puts me too far out of the mainstream of American thought.
That "good" comes despite my opposition to the death penalty
But not in this case.
What's the difference?
If killing is wrong—that's why Tasrnaev's being punished, for murdering three innocent bystanders with the pressure cooker bomb he and his brother built—then isn't it wrong to turn around and kill a killer, even through a deliberative legal process?
On one level, the criminal justice system is broken, men are sentenced to death wrongly, as a matter of routine by overzealous prosecutors and colluding cops. It's skewed against minorities and the poor. If killing is wrong, then the great United States of American should not kill people, for any reason, as an official act. It's bad enough that cops and soldiers kill in the name of society, and how often does that turn out to be error when the smoke clears?
Let's call that Logic Loop A.
Logic Loop B goes like this: I'm glad Timothy McVeigh is dead. The Oklahoma City Bomber should not be wondering if there's vanilla cake for dinner, and issuing his occasional manifestos, through his lawyer, explaining why he's glad he blew up the Murrah Federal Building and buried those toddlers alive in the day care center. Society needs a way to express its utter disgust, and jamming him full of poison and letting him die strapped to a gurney just feels right.
When you look at society's that don't kill such people—Norway sentenced Anders Behring Breivik, the fascist asshat who murdered 77 people, mostly teens, to 21 years in prison—that seems wrong. Justice calls for something more than two decades in a Scandinavian prison. Then again, Norway is Eden compared to the United States, crime-wise, so maybe we should pay more attention to how they do things, and ask ourselves whether killing Tsarnaev feels right because we're a murderous nation of gun nuts who've barely knocked the dust off our Wild West spurs, at least intellectually. Maybe we should worry about this feeling like the right thing.
It's a tough judgment call. I can see those who are against capital punishment in any form, far more than I could buy the Texas, kill-'em-all-and-let-God-sort-'em-out approach to criminal justice.
Bottom line, for me, is that executing terrorists is good for society. I can't pretend it has deterrent value. These are not long-range thinkers and, besides, half the time they intend on killing themselves anyway. At some point we have to re-establish that we're a culture with limits, and the need to not randomly kill others for your psycho nihilistic cause is a fairly low bar to set.
Regular life is so precious, and sweet, someone who would shatter in on a clear spring day, at a joyous civic event, how should that person be dealt with? You could argue that an application of the mercy and humanity that is at the core of our Western culture, or should be. I could see that. But emotionally it jars for me. I don't want to see TImothy McVeigh, out after 20 years, as dictated by our Norwegian stands of justice, in downtown Northbrook, licking an ice cream cone. Better that McVeigh is in hell, and good news that Tsarnaev will be joining him. Not every decision should be made by cool reason. Sometimes you have to go with your gut.