Remember how I said my husband signed me up to volunteer and make phone calls on behalf of the Montana Abolition Coalition? Well, I did exactly that last night.
I didn’t realize that we were going to use our own phones (I’ll pay you back, Dad).
Basically, I called people who had signed earlier petitions and asked if they would be willing to contact their representative and urge them to support the abolition bill. I had people in Rep. McNutt’s district. I accidentally called him McNugget at least 50% of the time.
Montana is on the verge of hopefully abolishing the death penalty. This is an issue I’ve been passionate about for a long time. I grew up in Virginia, another state where the death penalty is legalized. And used. Too often.
Why am I against the death penalty? Shouldn’t murderers get their just desserts?
Well, how do we decide what is “just”? According to our Declaration of Independence, life is an inalienable right. According to my handy-dandy dictionary on my computer, inalienable means, “unable to be taken or given away.” However, according to my handy-dandy almost lawyer of a husband, that is not the interpretation of the word “inalienable” when it comes to the constitution. Legal precedent has stated that by committing an act of murder, an individual forfeits their right to life.
Please, enter into that part of your brain you reserve for deep philosophical conjecture. Are we able to voluntary forfeit a right that cannot be given away? Obviously, life itself can be taken and given away, but what I am asking is if the right to life can be. If one individual murders another, they have not taken away their right to life, but they have taken a way their life itself. Their right to life still exists, although that right was ignored.
Thus, in a murder, a life has been taken away regardless of that person’s inalienable right to life. That right is still there. In the same way, the person who committed the murder cannot voluntarily forfeit their right to life. (And I’m talking about in a philosophical sense, not in a legal sense.) Despite committing a heinous act, despite ignoring another’s rights, their right is still intact. Because it is inalienable.
Doesn’t seem fair? Well, maybe not. But that’s how our legal system operates. A punishment is determined by the nature of the act, and is not a re-creation of that act. For instance, let’s say I infringe on your right to privacy. Do you have the right to infringe on my right to privacy? No. You have the right to seek damages and justice for the wrong that was done, but not to re-create the crime.
So, why would a right that is more important, more holy, more sacrosanct, be more easily taken away?
Enough philosophical talk? Okay. How about this then:
* Black defendants are more likely to be executed when the victim is white. 30 times more likely than when a white defendant kills a black victim.
* American Indians are disproportionately executed
* Appeals for death penalty execution last an average of 17 years. That’s a lot of trials for a victim’s family to sit through.
* There is always the possibility of executing an innocent person. 130 people have been exonerated from death row.
* It is more expensive to sentence someone to death than to life in prison (because of the appeals).
* There is no evidence supporting the death penalty as an effective deterrent against murder.
And last but not least, there is always this:
“Thou shalt not kill.” — Exodus 20:13
Like I’ve said, this is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time. But it gets more real when you actually know a murder. When I was in JVC, one of my clients was allegedly murdered by another client. It’s a terrible thing. They were both people I knew and enjoyed spending time with. I was helping the victim get his ID, and we had been trying to help the accused guy get help for his alcohol addiction. Unfortunately there is no detox clinic in town. (Just the hospital, and then you’re back on the street until you can get into a halfway house).
I want to see an end to the death penalty. For them, for both of them, for all the accused and all the victims. I hope that we can end this culture of violence, both on the streets and in the courts.
Today is a good day to choose life.