Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Where Vigilante Justice Goes Wrong

What single act qualifies as both the firmest fist of justice and the most heinously unrighteous airing of grievances on another person? That's right, the keying of a car.

There are countless people every morning taking those last few naive steps toward their cars thinking this was a morning like any other. As the distance between man and vehicle is sufficiently small to allow for close inspection, the gory details engraved by a midnight vandal are resolved and the panic sets in. In terms of damage, it's amazing how 5 seconds can be worth $500. A hundred dollars per second? If I were in the auto body business I would probably have a team of thugs armed with titanium keys out every night ensuring my prosperity.

Often, though, it's not a random occurrence at all. Just like murder, car keying is linked most frequently to someone known to the victim - or at least in some how connected.

Take the case of a friend of mine. Recently, she moved into a cozy little apartment near campus, one of those places where students late for class will inevitably park regardless of consequences
just this once. What that means for the residents is the constant irritation of finding the lot they paid for completely full. Sounds frustrating, which is why there exists a perfectly reasonable punishment for these social transgressors - the common tow truck.

Having your car towed is terrible and shocking and can be expensive, but it is not the personal and moral violation that a keying is. It's like the physical damage to a paint job is akin to seeing someone kick your dog in the ribs.

Anyway, soon after she moved in she discovered a long deep key gash in her hood. A few days later, it was accompanied by the words "Don't park here" gouged in permanently. Aghast, she flew off the handle and raged to the apartment manager, which was pretty much all she could do. No matter how many experts in handwriting analysis she consulted, no one could match the perp to the crime, which was, of course, some fed up resident who had voiced her frustration with what was intended to be a punishment for someone who didn't live there.

Too bad it just ended up undermining the whole vigilante judicial process.

This anecdotal story serves as a perfect analogy for the death penalty. In the US, the ongoing debate about what purpose capital punishment serves. Arguments against it attack from many different angles.

Pragmatically speaking, it is quite expensive to execute someone thanks to lengthy appeals processes and extended jail time before the execution. In addition, there is little evidence that capital punishment deters the sorts of crimes for which it is the sentence. One could counter-argue that the execution of a murderer prevents any
future murders he might commit, but then again so does life in prison. The majority of murders are committed by first-timers anyway.

There are those who consider killing morally wrong, for personal or religious reasons.

Most poignant, from the State's position at least, is the possibility of executing an innocent person. The death penalty, unlike a prison term, cannot be overturned if new evidence presents itself which exonerates the criminal. It is the State's primary obligation to protect and more importantly
not to harm its citizens. Once there is even the remotest possibility of an innocent person's execution, the whole process should be re-evaluated.

Just as the person who keyed my friend's car should have considered the possibility that just maybe it belonged to someone paying the $500 a month to live there.

Let's take a quick look at the world. No country in Europe has the death penalty, except lone Belarus, and I bet you 100:1 you can't locate it on a map without Google. Japan doesn't have it, neither do Australia, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Colombia, and Turkey just to name a few. Don't get too worried yet, we have some brothers-in-arms. The list of our fellow executioners includes Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Cuba, and the mother of all killers - China. Note that these are all countries with which the US has spic-n-span political relations, whose governments are democratically elected, and whose people enjoy the freedom we champion every time we buy a Hummer or chomp down on some deliciously unhealthy freedom fries.

Within our community of state executioners, though, we are pretty pathetic. The US killed only 60 people in 2005, which pales in comparison to the over 3400 China performed. Chinese is unequivocally the least desirable citizenship to hold, at least in terms of fear that your own government will line you up against a cinderblock wall and pump you full of Kalashnikov rounds. But don't worry, all is not lost - we still have Texas. It's encouraging to those of us on the pro-death lobby that 2% (1/50) of the country can make up 38% of its executions. Yee haw!

No comments: