I do not accept the argument that if even one innocent person is executed, we should keep every murderer alive. The argument is neither morally nor intellectually tenable. If one were to adopt that argument, no country could ever go to war. We always know that innocents will die in a war. But we also know that war is sometimes morally necessary. We know that raising or lowering the speed limit will increase or decrease the number of innocent people who die on our highways. According to the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois, Chicago, 12,545 more people died on American highways when the speed limit was increased from 55 to 65 during the period of 1995-2005. Yet, I still support the higher speed limit — because one cannot make any social policy based solely on the question: Will an innocent die?
And given how many people suffer horribly knowing the murderer of their loved one is being fed, sheltered, medically administered to — and, as I pointed out, in the case of Yitzhak Rabin’s murderer, allowed to marry and father a child — I support the far greater good of putting murderers, under strictly defined conditions, to death.
Nor is the death penalty racist, if that means unfair to blacks. It is whites who are executed disproportionately, not blacks. Between 1976 and 2005, 52 percent of all murders were committed by blacks, yet blacks constituted only 34 percent of those executed for murder.
Finally, I will respond to some of the arguments of Stephen F. Rohde, president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, published in this week’s paper and shared with me in advance of publication.
Mr. Rohde begins by stating, “In a civilized society, we should not kill to show that killing is wrong.”
This is a truly meaningless statement.
First, it is simply wrong. We kill in order to show that murder is wrong. As an attorney who has represented a man on California’s death row, it is inconceivable that Mr. Rohde does not know the huge moral and legal difference between killing and murder. Nevertheless he uses this anti-death penalty cliché. Too bad. We do indeed show that murder is wrong by killing murderers. It is the single best way to do so. Punishment is society’s way of demonstrating what the society thinks about any given crime. As I wrote, if a Bernie Madoff and a child murderer both get prison for life, that means that we deem murder and monetary fraud as equally evil.
Second, we show that kidnapping is wrong by kidnapping kidnappers. We show that taking money away from people (stealing) is wrong by taking money away from people (fines).
Mr. Rohde then notes that Americans increasingly oppose the death penalty. He cites a Field Poll. I am unmoved. I will cite the most respected pollster, Gallup, whose 2009 Crime Survey finds that “65 percent of Americans continue to support the use of the death penalty for persons convicted of murder.”
In any event, why does Mr. Rohde cite a poll? It is either morally right or morally wrong to keep a Charles Manson or a Timothy McVeigh alive. Polls are irrelevant.