Editorial: Repeal of death penalty is inevitable
The death penalty is often called a complex issue, but it’s not. It’s an emotional issue, and once again it is up to the state’s lawmakers to penetrate that emotion in search of real justice.
Today, the proposed repeal of the death penalty returns to the Senate, where its fate appears to be a foregone conclusion. New Hampshire, the fiercely independent state that it is, is not ready to join the rest of New England in abolishing capital punishment. But New Hampshire will end the death penalty, and it won’t be long now. History shows us that enlightenment is a kinetic force. Sometimes it doesn’t move fast enough, but still it moves.
What state senators must decide today, then, is which side of history they prefer: the forgotten pages of resistance to inevitable change or the celebrated chapters of social evolution.
That’s not to disparage senators who believe with all their heart that some criminals deserve to die for their crimes. Such minds can rarely be changed during the course of debate; a shift, if it is to occur, must happen during moments of deep reflection or as the result of new experiences that alter perspective.
To support the death penalty merely out of political cowardice is something altogether different. When fear that a future political opponent could paint you soft on crime results in the abandonment of principle, when pressure from the party or one of its leaders penetrates conscience, it is affirmation of the thoughtful constituent’s gravest concerns. Because, more than anything, voters deserve intelligent representatives who do what they believe is right and can articulate the decision-making process in such a way that contributes to the continuation of debate. In New Hampshire and the rest of America, that has always been the driving force of social progress.
And at the cusp of progress, this is where the debate now stands: Killing criminals is a base instinct masquerading as legitimized murder. It’s not justice, it’s revenge.
Supporters of the death penalty will often cite heinous crimes and ask, “How can you defend this monster’s right to live?” But to oppose the death penalty isn’t a refutation of the severity of the crime. It represents an understanding of the limitations of the American political and judicial systems, and of the individuals who collect evidence and prosecute crimes. It as an acknowledgement that there is no such thing as a jury of one’s peers, especially when opposition to the death penalty will get you dismissed from the jury in a capital murder case.
And to defend a practice that risks the life of even one innocent man is unconscionable.
The repeal of the death penalty is about arithmetically reducing suffering in the world, not merely the suffering of the criminal but of a nation that has seen too much of death at the hands of another. To argue that killing a killer eases suffering paints a very dark picture of human nature.