An argument against the death penalty – missing the point

Recently, another person bound for execution was found to actually be innocent. A man by the name of Ricky Jackson was convicted of murder. He had spent just under 40 years in prison, on death row. And it was found that the police had put undue pressure on a 12 year old boy forcing him to give false testimony that sent the man to prison and to face execution (of course after a prolonged prison sentence).

Now some people have taken it upon themselves to use this as an excuse (or another excuse) to condemn the death penalty. They would use this example with Ricky Jackson as evidence against the application of capital punishment. “Oh yes, how horrendous would it have been if we had killed an innocent man, so sure it’s better that we kill no one.” And recently I found out that some amongst those who consider themselves followers of the Torah also have their reasons for supporting the abolition of the death penalty. One argument that I’ve heard is that the world isn’t ready for the application of the death penalty. So this person advocates and votes for the abolition of the death penalty.

Now as those who read this blog know, I’m a Seven-Laws junkie. I think about it enough times to write the amount of articles that I have written on this blog, and created videos and read books and used my head space to actually look for real life applications to these principles.

Capital punishment is firmly a part of the Seven Commandment system. Even if it’s just a maximal punishment with lesser forms of correction available, it is still there. As the Talmud says about each of the Seven Commandments: “Their prohibition is their death sentence.” As it is explained in the Soncino edition of the Talmud, when it is taught it is “forbidden to do something, it ipso facto teaches that it is punishable by death.” Ramban’s view on this statement is summarized as follows:

The RAMBAN (Bereishis 34:25) asks many questions on the words of the Rambam. Among his questions, he asks that the commandment of Dinim includes the law that a judge is not allowed to decide a case based on corrupt or fraudulent grounds. If a judge does so, he is liable for the death penalty for the active transgression of a prohibition. (The Ramban cites a Talmud Yerushalmi as proof for this.) However, if the Gentiles in a certain city failed to set up a court altogether, they are not liable for the death penalty, since they merely neglected to perform a positive commandment and did not transgress a prohibition. The Gemara later (57a) teaches that “Azharasan Zo Hi Misasan” — the law prescribes the death penalty for Gentiles for transgressing any command for which they have been warned. This implies that only the violation of an Azharah, which refers to a negative prohibition (see 59b), carries the death penalty. Since the commandment to set up courts of law is a positive commandment, failure to fulfill it should not warrant the death penalty.

Not only this, but the written Torah itself has the death penalty as an explicit command upon Noah and his descendants. In Bereshis (Genesis) 9, it clearly states “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” That is understood as meaning that the death penalty is mandatory in certain cases of murder.

So the death penalty is commanded for certain acts of murder. And it is a punishment made available for the breaking of each of the Seven Commandments.

But there are some that say that the Gentile world just isn’t ready for the death penalty because … well because innocent people are going to get killed. In fact that’s the reasoning of those who know Torah and those who are against what the Torah states. And sure I must understand this, some would say. Surely I wouldn’t want a single innocent man killed/executed for a crime he did not commit.

I think that this sort of reasoning is fundamentally inadequate and kinda nonsensical. Why do I say this?

Think about what these people are implicitly saying when they focus on the death penalty (and they do focus on the death penalty). They are essentially saying that imprisoning or punishing an innocent person is fine or of a lesser priority; it’s only the death penalty that needs to be revoked. Again, to essentially rob a person and steal the irretrievable moments of their lives, imprison this innocent individual and leave them open to abuse and possible rape in a prison, destroy their reputation and damage their chances of getting employment, essentially torturing them while they’re alive, all of this these people subjectively decide that prison is fine but the death penalty needs to be revoked.

If these people were equal in their (inadequate) judgment, they should be just as against prison as they are against the death penalty, because any punishing of the innocent should be resisted and protested. But no, these people believe they should concern themselves more with the death of a person rather than the ruining of a man while he’s alive. I can guess what some would say to themselves in their minds: “well at least the man alive has a chance to get out again; you can’t get out of death!” But my response is that there is something a lot easier about death than life. It’s a lot harder to put a man through torture, embarrassment, pain, degradation, rape and more injustice when he is dead. When a person is alive and has to be dragged moment by moment through prison life and the consequences of it if he ever gets out (IF!), the scars … oh God, the scars! In some ways, you’ve killed that person even if he’s walking around. The government and judicial system has taken such a significant part of his life.

Anyway, even if these people were equal in their judgement and were against both prison and the death penalty, their thinking would still be inadequate. Why? Because they are focused on the wrong thing. They are focused on the end results when the problem is not the end result. To use an example of a crime that most people can understand, there is something equal about the man who murders another in a premeditated fashion being put to death. There is something correct about a man who harms another person to face some punishment. The punishments in and of themselves are not the problem. The problem is the justice system. Or more properly, the injustice system. From the level of the police officer, to the investigators, to the lawyers, to the judge, to the notion of a jury, in each and every one of these levels of the judicials system, injustice sits comfortably. I’m not saying that they don’t get some judgments right, but the problem is that in too many instances, the way the case is handled is riddled with injustice that lands innocent people, too many of them, in front of a judge sentencing for crimes they didn’t commit, and even the judge … please forgive me for my rare harsh words, but even the judge can be such an arrogant a-hole, whose head is so firmly shoved up his own backside that he wouldn’t know a proper and just sentence if it slapped him across the face. Too many judges fit into this category! A friend of mine has had personal experience of how up themselves judges are.

And that’s the issue: the injustice system. If it were a reliable tool of repair and balance in the world, then there would be less fear about who gets the death penalty, who goes to prison and who gets other punishments. Why? Because the judgments would be fair and balanced against the crime, and the way each case would be handled would have integrity and an honest pursuit of the truth, rather than an immature and pushy cop ready to tell lies, or the skill of a lawyer at finding loopholes or bending a story to his client’s favour, or an ignorant and mentally lazy jury, or an arrogant disinterested unfairly biased judge. I don’t know if it’s the corrupting influence of power that causes the injustice system to be so flawed, or whether the desire for some strange form of freedom that means that the greedy can be lawyers (and judges) and the ignorant can be the jury, but it is the injustice system that is the problem, not the punishments handed out.

One of the biggest reasons, I believe, why the death penalty is rejected by many people (but not the only one) is the simple fear of getting it wrong, that an innocent person will die. And yet those same people seem to accept it being wrong when it destroys a person while they are alive, by sending them to prison. This justified distrust in the injustice system will not go away with the removal of the death penalty (enough people get killed by the injustice system and by government in many other ways, like the amount of people killed by agents of government anyway, like cops). It’s by turning the injustice system into a proper system of justice that proper sentences can be handed out including the death penalty. But this calls for such a deep change in, not only the courts and police forces, but in the society from which the lawyers, judges and police officers are taken from. That will take a lot.

It’s extremely disappointing to hear people who claim to follow Torah speak of the abolition of a commanded means of “punishment”, especially if they do so whilst supporting the current immoral political system which undermines God’s commandments for Gentiles in one way or another. But it is just another sign of the times we live in where even such people would join the rest of the world in calling what is evil “good” and what is good “evil”.

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