The Death Penalty and the Ariel Castro Principle

Holy shit, am I posting about something outside of Game of Thrones? It seems I am!

It shouldn’t be a surprise, though, when PZ Myers dangles a sparkly thing in front of my face. And by “sparkly thing” I mean some guy spouting nonsensical rubbish and acting like it makes him a superior freethinker.

Ron Lindsay, what is this I don’t even?

There’s lots in here to bat around and use as a chew toy, but I think this here is the most…special, of Dr. Lindsay’s supposed counter-counterpoints:

There is little doubt that much of the American justice system is affected by either explicit or implicit racial bias. This bias manifests at all levels, from disproportionate traffic stops and arrests of blacks to disproportionate death sentences for blacks. But ultimately, this argument against the death penalty is no more than a makeweight. Removing the death penalty is not going to end racism in the American justice system. Moreover, if the adverse impact on blacks were the real reason for opposing the death penalty, presumably opponents would be satisfied with a quota system, whereby no death penalty could be imposed on blacks, Hispanics, and so forth until the requisite number of whites were sentenced to death. A quota system would remove the effects of racial bias. I doubt, however, that this would satisfy death penalty opponents.

The racism in the application of the death penalty is one of several reasons why I am opposed. And I would not support a quota system, partly because I also oppose capital punishment for other reasons. But I just want to focus on this one line: “Removing the death penalty is not going to end racism in the American justice system.”

Did he really just say that?

“Removing the death penalty is not going to end racism in the American justice system.”

Yeah, here’s the thing: death penalty abolition, all by itself, will not suddenly make our justice system stop being racist. It would, however, address this one phenomenon of state-sanctioned executions of black people at an unwarranted rate relative to white people who commit the same crimes. I think that’s an end unto itself.

Oh, and I feel the same way about supermax as PZ does: a lifetime of perpetual isolation from other human beings is cruel and it should not be done. I also think that prison is inherently a site of violence, and short of abolishing the prison system altogether, there are a lot of ways that the incarceration process could be made less horrible. People who are kept in prison for the rest of their lives should be allowed to interact with other prisoners, and that shouldn’t be controversial.

This may surprise Dr. Lindsay, but I didn’t always take this position. I used to think the death penalty was moral in a small number of cases. I listened to opposing arguments and eventually changed my mind, but not because it was socially unacceptable to be pro-capital punishment. I changed my mind because I realized the anti-DP arguments made sense.

However, my fellow bleeding hearts might not like this: I also think that there are some cases in which prisoner suicide is the best possible outcome. Ariel Castro was one; Dzhokar Tsarnaev is arguably another. I think it’s wrong for the state to execute people, but I also think the state has no responsibility to keep profoundly cruel and destructive people alive against their will. If Tsarnaev wants to live a long life, he should be kept with the general population in a sufficiently secure prison. If he prefers to kill himself while he’s still young, he should have our permission to die.