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Legalized Murder: The Death Penalty Serves Revenge and Does Nothing to Solve Crime



Michael J. Ring

Jeffrey Curley was the victim of perhaps the most heinous crime committed in recent memory within the confines of this city.

The young boy was kidnapped from his neighborhood, literally blocks from MIT. After refusing to take part in sexual intercourse with his kidnappers, he was suffocated. His lifeless corpse was then immersed in a concrete-filled container and thrown into a Maine river.

The community has rightly been left shocked and dumfounded by this appalling tragedy. Unfortunately, in their anger and rage, some observers wish to commit a crime more heinous than even the murder of an innocent child. Sadly, in the wake of young Curley's murder, there have been loud, forceful calls for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to participate in the state-approved murder otherwise known as capital punishment.

These cries for revenge are certainly not unique to the streets of Cambridge. Only 12 states do not have a death penalty. In recent years, states like New York and Kansas have reinstituted capital punishment, while others like Texas and Virginia have accelerated their rates of execution. Capital punishment is truly becoming an American epidemic.

The murderers of Jeffrey Curley are monsters and deserve to be imprisoned for the rest of their lives. They should be forced to sit in tiny cells and think about what they have done to a young boy and his family. But they do not deserve to be victims of a lynching at the hands of a bloodthirsty society.

Capital punishment is the most blatant example of a double standard anywhere in American politics. It is never justified to willfully take the life of another person. But to truly believe in capital punishment, one must see some murders as good and justified. A death penalty advocate will tell us that Jeffrey Curley's murder was an atrocity, but the very same action committed against an inmate is justice or retribution. If this is the logic to which our nation has come, America is in a sorry state indeed.

Our desire to see criminals put to death can be summed up in one word: revenge. We are a society that still believes literally in Hammurabi's Code. We want to see an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Many Americans applaud the notion of castration for rapists. The vast majority of us want to see murderers die. We want a quick solution that will inflict pain and suffering on others. The fruits we reap from sowing bloodthirst and revenge, however, are vicious circles of crime and hate.

The United States is alone among the industrialized western world in its murder of criminals. The United States also suffers from one of the highest crime and murder rates anywhere on the planet. Other nations have adopted real reform and solutions to the problem of violent crime. The United States clings to its antiquated notions of societal vigilantism.

In the United Kingdom, the crime and murder rates are a fraction of the rates here. Britain does not have a death penalty; instead, it has more expansive programs for dealing with and reforming the behavior of young offenders. And Britain also has some of the world's most severe laws on gun ownership. It's not a mystery why the UK's crime statistics are so much better than ours: The people of Britain believe in real solutions to crime. We choose superficial solutions.

Some death penalty advocates will try to hypnotize people with the argument that capital punishment is a deterrent. The would-be murderer will think twice, they tell us, upon seeing the image of an electric chair or lethal injection.

This argument is totally wrong. If the death penalty is a deterrent and stops murders from occurring that would otherwise happen, then why are these crimes almost unheard of in the European Union, where capital punishment is illegal? In the United States, the states with the lowest murder rates are also the states without death penalty laws. States like Texas with high per capita execution rates also have high murder rates.

Not surprisingly, the states without the death penalty are the ones willing to strike at the root of crime, while the states with the death penalty just focus on cleaning up the end product. Strict handgun sales stop murders. Programs to reform first-time offenders stop murders. Capital punishment has probably never stopped one murder in the history of the world. The death penalty is applied after the fact, after a crime has occurred. Aren't we better served stopping crime at the source than trying to gloss over the stain every time a murder occurs?

Our nation's founding document lists life as an inalienable right. The death penalty is a violation of a this fundamental human right. No matter what a person says or does, he or she is still a living, breathing human and entitled to basic liberties. And what is more basic than the right to live?

The United States faults nations like China and and Iran for human rights abuses. We find it appalling the abuse that children suffer under such regimes. This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black: The United States, the supposed bastion of liberty, joins these dictatorial regimes in allowing the sentencing of minors to death.

Most importantly, we must realize that our justice system is imperfect. People are sometimes sentenced to prison only to be released later when new evidence surfaces and exonerates them. But the death penalty is a punishment that cannot be undone. The execution of an innocent person would be the ultimate tragedy. Our legal system was founded on the premise that it is better to let the guilty go free than to punish the innocent. This noble principle, which has served us well for 200 years, cries out against capital punishment.

So let us grieve for little Jeffrey Curley and let our sympathy and sorrow be with his family. But let us resist the temptation to turn one heinous act into an entire ceaseless cycle of violence and hate. We claim we're a civilized society. It's time for us to prove it.