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Pat Piper has made a career learning something new. As a journalist in the news business, “something new” occurs every hour so he’s becoming an expert at understanding stuff he never thought about. Learning became a common word in “Future Talk: Conversations About Tomorrow” (Warner Books), the popular book he ghostwrote with Larry King as […]

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Uncomfortably Numb

By on May 14, 2015 in See It Here

The 12-member jury deciding whether Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev spends the rest of his life in a supermax prison in Colorado or is executed is facing an issue that has been debated over and over: is capital punishment the right thing to do? Federal law says yes although 18 states and the District of Columbia say no. Massachusetts, where Tsarnaev has been tried, abolished the death penalty in 1984 but the bomber is being tried on federal charges. One more point: the death penalty was put on a ten-year recess until 1976 when the Supreme Court ruled it could be used. See, we were uncomfortable about it back then just as we are now. This is good.

I remember being an intern in a Chicago television newsroom in 1976 when Utah became the first state to put the death penalty back into use. Gary Gilmore, a convicted murderer, faced a firing squad saying, “let’s do it.” They did just that.

The argument for killing someone with a lethal cocktail of drugs (and I might add this too is being decided by the Supreme Court right now after four botched executions that took longer than they should have) is that they’ll never kill again. Some states, uncomfortable with the problems of lethal injection have decided on a Plan B that ranges from a firing squad  (Utah) to nitrogen gas (Oklahoma). There is no argument that killing a person because they killed a person ensures they’ll never kill again. Besides, it makes us feel good. They learned their lesson alright….we showed them what civilization means…don’t screw up or…….

The “eye-for-an-eye” routine is nothing new: References are in Exodus and Deuteronomy in the Bible. I have always liked the counter argument to this: if an eye-for-an-eye is the way to go, after a while, we’ll be blind.

Yes, I’m uncomfortable about putting people to death. Anyone who has committed such a heinous crime that deserves capital punishment isn’t thinking about the ramifications of their actions before, during or after they are done. So it isn’t a deterrent. Letting them deal with their own demons  alone in an 8 X 12 prison cell isn’t either, though there are always stories about some having a “Come to Jesus” moment. So the issue becomes one of punishment. What to do?

I remember a college professor suggesting this premise: Living in society means you either accept the way we do things (obey laws like not killing people) or you don’t accept the way we do things. If you choose the latter, society will help you with Plan B and take you to an island or someplace in Montana where you will spend the rest of your time with fellow non-society acceptors. Food will be dropped a few times a day but you’re on your own. Build your own society. The ACLU would have a field day though.

Yes, it’s a variation of an eye-for-an-eye. The difference is, nobody loses their sight. And someone will make it into a reality TV show.

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