One of the things that makes the death penalty an ethical disaster is the likelihood that it'll be inflicted on people who are not actually killers, but may as well be executed anyway because "they won't be missed."
Louisiana, for instance, wants to execute pedophiles:
The Louisiana Supreme Court last week upheld the death sentence for a pedophile, and the governor of Texas is soon to sign into law legislation to that effect.The cynic in me welcomes the law, simply because of the merriment that'll ensue the next time a beloved priest or honorable politician is caught raping children.
But then, the cynic in me is a blithering fuckhead with the moral acumen of a spirochete.
It's safe to say that any pedophiles executed under this law will not have Friends in High Places. When a good (i.e., white, Republican, Christian) man like Randal Ankeney molests children, Maggie Gallagher and Peggy Noonan will present us with the edifying spectacle of a titanic battle between Good and Evil, and remind us that no one is beyond redemption. (Besides...were the children truly innocent? And isn't feminism ultimately to blame either way?)
When someone more disposible does it, they'll inform us that failing to punish certain crimes with death isn't morality, but self-coddling vanity that'll come to worse than nothing.
What's really appalling is that allowing the death penalty may actually make these cases harder to uncover and prosecute:
"We are very concerned that this may reduce reporting of sexual assault, since most child abuse is made by someone close to the child," said Karen Rugaard, a spokeswoman for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.Indeed. Given what we already know about familial denial in cases of sexual abuse, it's not hard to imagine parents dealing with the problem privately, instead of consigning Grandpa to Ol' Sparky. As for politicians and priests, the organizations to which they belong will have an even greater incentive to keep misbehavior secret.
I find white supremacists almost as nauseating as pedophiles, but I don't think it's a good idea to execute them, either. Speaking of which, a neo-Nazi named Kevin Strom has been charged with posession of child pornography, and with "enticing" a nine-year-old girl.
Strom was surprised by his wife Elisha...while apparently masturbating nude in front of a computer while looking at photos of young girls. Although he ran away from his wife, "she was able to observe that he was sexually aroused."He also committed the largely aesthetic crime of writing a love sonnet to the little girl, and setting it to the tune of "Here We Come a-Wassailing."
In my experience, the standard "liberal" response to a case like Strom's involves gloating over the idea of him sharing a jail cell with that classic racist stereotype, the large, amorous black man...as though rape were a legitimate way of settling scores, compared to the "barbarity" of the death penalty.
That's an emotional cesspool I prefer not to plumb at the moment. But I will suggest that the power deeply disturbed predators like Strom seek isn't likely to be made less attractive by the threat of death. As I've argued elsewhere, that threat's likely to lure them like bug zappers lure mosquitoes (much as they're already lured by this country's sick obsession with "childhood innocence," which assuages adult guilt at the cost of making children ideal victims).
UPDATE: In a conversation at Eschaton, Gomez made the additional point that it's unwise to have the same penalty for molesting a child, and molesting and killing a child. Some criminals may decide to take the "in for a penny, in for a pound" outlook.
Maybe so. On the other hand, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. What's important here is taking a tough stand. And what could possibly be tougher than killing people?