Monday, December 12, 2011

The Death Penalty Is Not About One Individual

Matt Kailey is a transman living in Denver, Colorado, and an author, public speaker, and trainer on transgender issues. He blogs at Tranifesto. In his ideal world, no one would be equal to anyone else – everyone would just be equal.

Gary Haugen wants to die. The convicted murderer was scheduled to be executed – a euphemism for murder by the State – in December in Oregon. All systems were go until Gov. John Kitzhaber put the kibosh on the killing.

According to the Huffington Post, Kitzhaber said that he would not allow anyone to be executed while he is in office, and he called Oregon’s death penalty law “compromised and inequitable.”

Death penalty supporters are surely up in arms about this one, and Haugen himself called Kitzhaber a “coward,” but the reality is that Kitzhaber knows what pro-death activists don’t – that the death penalty is not about one individual. 

The death penalty is about us as a society. The death penalty is about us as a species. The death penalty is about us as human beings.

Of course the death penalty is “compromised and inequitable,” and not just in Oregon. We have seen it applied arbitrarily across the country, with each state having its own rules and regulations. We have seen the inequities of the death penalty as it targets people of color and the poor. There is absolutely no viable research that indicates that the death penalty serves as a deterrent – and we don’t care. That’s not our goal, no matter how much we insist that it is. We really just want our eye-for-an-eye. We want revenge. 

And for those who support it, that’s what the death penalty is all about – not prevention, not deterrence, not society’s protection. It’s about revenge against one individual for a crime that he (I say “he” because those on death row are overwhelmingly male) was found guilty of committing by a jury of (possibly) his peers.

But for Kitzhaber – and for those who know the truth about the death penalty – it’s not about revenge and it’s not about one man. It’s about humanity – ours. And that’s why the governor did the right thing by reversing the execution order for Haugen.

Personally, I don’t care what happens to Haugen. If he committed the crimes of which he was convicted – the brutal rape and murder of his ex-girlfriend’s mother and the murder of another inmate after he was sentenced to prison – perhaps he shouldn’t be among us on the streets. But I do care what happens to us as a society when we lower ourselves to the level of murder. I do care what happens to us as human beings when we become the brutal killers. 

If Haugen truly wants to die, there are ways that he can take care of that himself. It should not be our responsibility to grant his death wish. The death penalty isn’t about him, nor was it established for him. That he wants to die is not our problem.

Here’s our problem – Troy Davis was executed (murdered) by the State of Georgia on September 21, 2011, even after seven witnesses recanted their original trial testimony and another suspect possibly confessed to the crime. Davis’ guilt was so much in question that those who argued to halt the execution included former President Jimmy Carter, a former FBI director, and the Pope!

Davis was murdered anyway, despite worldwide protestation. It didn’t, and still doesn’t, seem to matter that he was possibly innocent. It didn’t, and still doesn’t, seem to matter that we might have killed the wrong man. And it didn’t, and still doesn’t, seem to matter that the guilty party could still be alive.