Sometimes you just have to write…

Shaken convictions

(picture courtesy of Microsoft)

(picture courtesy of Microsoft)

“Yes! That’s just what they deserve, and the sooner the better!”

That feeling of satisfaction was my first thought this week when I heard about the death sentence decision in the case of the New Delhi bus rapists. These six men (one technically a juvenile) brutally gang-raped a young woman on a bus, resulting in her death later.

But then my second thought was “Wait! Where did that come from?”

You see, I’m against the death penalty. In my view, no government has the right to take a life, ever, no matter how heinous the crime. Anyway, life spent in jail without parole is, I think, a greater punishment than death. Imagine being locked up and knowing you’ll never get out … ever. That would be painful, and last a lifetime.

So how could I have such a hateful gut reaction to this sentence?

Is it because it involved rape, rather than “just” murder? My gut feeling is one of pure hatred toward rapists. My gut tells me that rape is worse than murder; it involves more suffering, more pain, both emotionally and physically, and, if the woman does not die, it can damage her permanently.

But then I’d have to ask if there is some way that this rape was somehow worse than other rapes that do not get the death penalty. Would that be because there was more than one man committing the rape? Yes, the violence, the torture, went on for longer. And, again, my gut says this is worse than if it had been “just” one man raping her.

I wonder, though, whether the men would have gotten the death penalty if the woman had survived. Was the sentence based on the rape or the murder or the fact that both happened? And if there had not been such an international uproar over the case, would they have gotten off with a lighter sentence?

My gut wants those men to die for what they did to that woman. My gut says that their deaths should be slow and painful: not a relief, but a punishment. My gut hates.

My brain, my rational sense, is appalled by that hate. I am not a hateful person. I believe in reason, and reason tells me that succumbing to that gut feeling only lowers me to the level of an animal: to the level of those rapists.

They are inhuman; they used the most horrific violence.

I am human; I don’t believe in using violence. Therefore I can’t support the death penalty, even for them.

But maybe my gut reaction is telling me something. Maybe the issue isn’t so black and white. Maybe the death penalty is justified in some cases.

When I think about it – that gut feeling versus that rational sense – I come to the conclusion that perhaps, within certain very proscribed limits, there is a place for the death penalty. But where would we set those limits?

  • If it involves rape and leads to death, perhaps?
  • Or if it involves rape by more than one man, and leads to death?
  • Or if it involves particularly horrendous violence, and leads to death?
  • In any case it would have to be one hundred percent certain that the person is guilty. I don’t mean the American standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I mean absolutely, positively zero chance that the accused didn’t actually commit the crime.

It sure seems like this case fits all of these points. But I wonder how many other cases would fit these requirements, especially the last one: absolute proof. Is zero chance of a mistake even possible unless the suspect confesses?

And what happens, then, to my no-longer-firm belief that government doesn’t have the right to take a life? It doesn’t have the right … except sometimes?

My convictions are shaken.


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This entry was posted on September 22, 2013 by in Current events and tagged , , , , .
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