CNN just served up this hottest of hot takes to me, as a “related story” to a nice piece about my friend Sister Helen Prejean.
It was written a little over a month ago, back before Arizona botched an execution so badly that it took a couple of hours to execute one of its “callous, depraved, vicious predators,” to borrow a phrase from the piece.
I figured that the #1 way to improve the U.S. death penalty was gong to be “End It” and the remaining four ways would be “See #1”
Instead, Robert Blecker — the author of the piece, a professor at New York Law School — advises us to just work hard at killing smarter and killing better. He says things that likely sound reassuring to him, like “Let’s be more certain that they are guilty.” No, really; that’s one of the ways to improve the death penalty system. As in, we might never be completely certain that someone is guilty, but we can maybe try to be a little bit more certain. Or, at the very least, an improvement would be to actively avoid killing innocent people.
Anyhow, Blecker’s whole piece — indeed, his whole moral retributivist schtick — just highlights the ridiculousness of the death penalty enterprise. Rather than searching for the fortitude to say, “You know what? We’re better than this,” supporters of state killing instead keep trying to find ways to package vengeance more palatably.
But no matter how many ways you think we can tweak this system to make it better and more effective, no matter how much you say that the worst of the worst deserve the absolute worst we can give them, we’re still going to find ourselves executing those who are poor, or intellectually disabled, or whose victims are most sympathetic to juries. And whether we hang them, shoot them, gas them, electrocute them, cut off their heads, or pump their veins full of poison, there’s no getting around the fact that their deaths make killers of us all.
The death penalty is racist, classist, and morally bankrupt, and the only way to improve it is to abolish it entirely.