The trial of Steven Hayes (more popularly called the Cheshire or Petit trial), currently nearing the end of the guilt phase, has caused a state-wide sensation. Reporters have packed the courtrooms from the beginning of jury selection, with their numbers swelling well into the teens by the this point. Coverage of the trial is the headline for almost all news and media outlets. The death penalty question has also begun to infiltrate the all-important November gubernatorial election, with the Democrat staunchly opposed and the Republican in favor.
Posts have sprung up and tweets have been written to answer the question: has the Hayes trial changed your views on the death penalty? One reporter tweeted, wondering out loud what the lessons to be learned from this trial were. Lessons from what part of the trial and for whom, is the natural follow up, but that’s perhaps for another post on another day.
We’re never going to get honest answers in the death penalty debate, if we don’t ask the right questions. The first, taken from this tweet in the aftermath of the execution of Teresa Lewis (update: added this link to an editorial on Lewis’ execution and the response to that execution and what the death penalty says about us, which mirrors to some extent the views expressed in this post):
the state kills people, who have killed people, to prove that killing people is wrong
Think about it, mull it over and decide if you agree with that statement or disagree. And if you disagree, ask yourself, what part of the statement do I disagree with? Is it that the State doesn’t “kill” someone? So, what then, does the State do? And is the State not trying to prove that it is unacceptable in society to take someone else’s life? The hypocrisy in that statement – and its pointed message – is inescapable.
Gideon, when you say that people who want Hayes executed are as bad as he is, you descend into the very muck you excoriate. It shows what a hypocrite you are. Get off your high horse. With all of the injustice in the world, it’s amazing that you spend even one second worrying about how people, seeing a vile guy piss himself, laugh.
The comment, of course, does nothing to counter my original point: that by wanting the State to execute a man, we are no better than the man who committed these crimes. What, really, is the difference? We can get on our high horses and throw around words like justice, but in the end, we must confront the fact that we are – at some level – okay with murdering the right people. And the blind rage of vengeance shields us from asking that question of ourselves: if we support the death penalty, are we okay with murder?
Would those that so vigorously and vocally want Steven Hayes to be executed forthwith gladly step up to the injection chamber? What if it were a firing squad? Would they that are in favor of this punishment willingly step in front of another breathing, living human being and pull the trigger and watch the life leave him and stand over a cold, lifeless body, and be able to live with that knowledge for the rest of their lives?
Because if you are not, then you have no business asking 12 other people to do essentially that. And that question must – I don’t see how it cannot – bring home the hypocrisy in killing a man to prove that killing another man is morally unacceptable. We cannot be the evil that we want to condemn others for; rather, we must be the change that we wish to see in the world – that is, if we want others not to kill, we must not kill either.
To those who say “I’m normally against the death penalty, but in this case…”, I say you lie. I say either you were never against the death penalty, or you are now in favor of the death penalty. Because the moral opposition to the death penalty does not and cannot change depending on the particularly heinous nature of the crime or a value judgment about the quality of the victims.
In fact, I would venture to say that those who are against the death penalty for socio-economic reasons aren’t really against the death penalty in principle; just against its application.
For the only question to determine if you are against the death penalty in principle is: do I think it is morally and socially acceptable to kill another person. If the answer is no, then you must be against the ultimate penalty.
And that is the question we must be asking ourselves, while the bloodlust in us continues to grow.