JEFF BROOMES: A focus on capital punishment debate
THE RECENT UPSURGE in crime and violence has attracted the attention of all right-thinking citizens. This, coupled with the almost daily gun-related societal disruptions and alleged murders have reignited the heated debate on capital punishment.
The discussions, quarrels and arguments continue to disappoint me with their emotional and religious focus. For an educated citizenry that we speak so proudly about, we so easily turn our backs on intellectual discourse in support of our positions. As a result, no one wins, since emotions are always subjective and religion seems always to be absolute.
The debate is always presented in the same way. The proponents of capital punishment push their arguments inevitably by asking their opponents to put themselves in the position where their wife, mother or child is the victim of the murder. How would they feel and what would they want to happen to the perpetrator? Quite understandably the ultimate punishment is identified as what they would want to see being implemented.
This emotional slant neglects the cardinal rule of neutrality. In our mature system of democracy, those who are intimately involved are never allowed to be part of the judicial process. Hence, the family member should not at anytime expect to be judge, jury or executioner. Subjective emotionalism should never stand in place of objective dispensing of justice.
The opponents of capital punishment tend to quote The Bible and the admonition that simply says, “Thou shalt not kill!” They go on to make the argument that it is wrong to kill someone as punishment for killing, noting also that The Bible also states that the Almighty has clearly stated that vengeance is his and his alone.
This line of reasoning never considers the pain and grief suffered by family and friends. It further totally sidelines the role of natural justice and laws of the land. If a society lives by values and principles, should its citizens not be expected to do the same and, when they are in blatant disregard, should they not suffer the established penalty?
With these two divergent positions, where is the middle ground? This is the role of an educated society where guiding principles are paramount. There must be a discussion and acceptance of the answers to the big picture. Is killing acceptable at anytime? Does the state have rights that are denied to individual citizens? Is forgiveness a principle that should influence our responses to ill doing? These are only a sample of the myriad questions that intellectual discussion will and should explore.
Once you educate an individual, it is almost impossible to chart the course that his actions and reactions will take. This is true of the law-abiding an of the potential lawbreaker.
We must allow our thoughts and expectations to be guided by a clear appreciation of the fact that potential murderers can and do think in different ways. This has serious implications for the thought process that sees capital punishment as a deterrent to murder. Deterrence in an educated environment is not cut and dry, so acceptable principles should drive decision making.
There are some who will desist because of the potential punishment. There are others who feel they have a duty to avenge themselves, a family member or a friend and will commit the crime with the open willingness to accept whatever punishment may come their way. And there is the third who will plan, scheme and structure diversion and camouflage to ensure that they will never get caught. Often they are wrong, but they are sometimes right and never get caught. Now let intellectual discussion on capital punishment commence.
Jeff Broomes is an experienced educator, principal and community organiser who also served as a vice president of the BCA and director of the WICB. Email: [email protected]