The point to this thing, if there is one, is dulled and should be discarded
Who doesn’t love a good revenge story? For a large part of my childhood I was so enamored by the idea that I spent days-on-end watching old martial arts movies because good guys always prevailed. At times I even hoped that karma would bring an end to my psychologically abusive father. If karma won’t step up, I once thought, then I will. Years later there I was about to be handed a degree after spending four years studying the criminal justice system. I still loved the idea of revenge, but my studies taught me its impracticalities and my life taught me the anger which fuels it is actually a form of self-incarceration.
We’re so blinded by anger that we’re willing to kill our way through innocent people if it means killing the bad guy. This is not some game of chasing Osama Bin Laden where we rationalize killing helpless civilians because they may be lining the path that leads to the evildoer. Nope. We already have the evildoer locked up. He’s no longer a threat to society. Yet this is not enough. It’s not even close to enough. We want him dead so bad that we’re willing to pay about ten times the amount it would cost to keep him locked up for life. As alluded to in Ballots Behind Bars, talk of reforming the system is often misconstrued for weakness and weakness costs votes. And yet we the people march on, vociferating when our tax money may be spent on helping the young boy born with Cystic Fibrosis afford an airway clearance vest, yet staying comparatively quiet about the cost of killing people of no danger to us. A cost that goes far beyond dollar bills.
The most broken man in Into the Abyss, Werner Herzog’s documentary about the death penalty, is not the man waiting to be executed. It’s the executioner; the man whose job it is to strap a live human into a bed and bring them to eternal stillness by administering the lethal injection. Here is a system so broken that it’s capable of making good, hardworking men feel like nothing but murderers. They can’t simply kill and leave their work at work. Who could? One thing that weighs heavily on the mind of these men is this: it’s estimated that for every ten people executed one may be innocent. One For Ten, an online series of campaign films that will be produced and broadcast over five weeks in April and May 2013, seeks to increase awareness on this issue. Here’s their recent pilot:
The Innocence Project is a leading voice in what is called the “innocence movement.” Of course groups like Amnesty International use moral grounds for advocating that nobody be killed, but The Innocence Project is unique in that their fight is about using DNA testing to exonerate those wrongly convicted. They educate on eyewitness misidentification, government misconduct and, perhaps just as important, the many flaws of forensic “science.” Since its origins and up until recently, forensic science has been housed and fed steroids within the criminal justice system. The problem here is that it grew rapidly, was applied far too quickly and wasn’t held to the same standards as any of the other sciences. Essentially, it borrowed some of the techniques of science and used them within a system hell-bent not on the use of sound scientific methodologies but on catching criminals. This all resulted in a boom of television shows but also in a boom of people wrongfully convicted. Forensic science success stories would make the front page of newspapers while innocent people sat, and more often raged, in prison.
This too has costs. Those wrongfully incarcerated are now part of an American penal system perfectly equipped to create and foster criminals. On top of this, even when those innocent are exonerated and released back into society they very often feel so institutionalized that they struggle to adjust. In this video clip below, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, co-founders of The Innocence Project, discuss problems like the “black hole,” a concept of absence that employers and apartment owners have a hard time accepting:
There’s a scientific and common sense consensus that the death penalty does not deter criminals. And it sure doesn’t impact the prison overpopulation – 43 people were executed in 2011. So what is the purpose of this whole thing? Are millions of dollars being spent simply to appease a victim who believes eye for an eye will ease the grieving? Or are we still enamored by the innocently ignorant idea of revenge, an idea that makes for good action movies but has little to no grounding in reality?