I’m taking this really awesome class on contemporary moral controversies, and every week for half of the class we do a lesson, and then spend the other half debating a topic. Last week it was my turn to debate, and my professor knows how against capital punishment I am (I’ve taken his classes before), so he decided to have some fun with me and put me on the side in favor of capital punishment. Under the cut, I’ve added the argument I prepared for my class debate.
Some people say that capital punishment is cruel and unusual. They say that the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of society” would make it morally reprehensible in every single case. But we say that morality cannot be a revolving door through which we freely go in circles depending upon which society we may find ourselves in.
Rather, we say that in any society- mature or not- we hold certain moral standards that allow us to view certain actions and crimes as to be so immoral, so harmful to society, that we need not merely to punish a criminal for his or her wrongdoing, but permanently remove him or her from society as they would drag the overall morality of that society down.
We do not aim to argue that every crime, nor even every murder, warrants punishment of death. Merely that some crimes are so serious, so violating, so harmful to the entire community, that imprisonment in and of itself seems inadequate.
We would like now to look at these criminals who violate vulnerable members of our society, or damage the morality of society in a lasting way by the crime they committed. Last October, a 32 year old man in Virginia raped a 9 month old baby so badly that she was declared brain dead. The baby had extensive bleeding and signs of being struck in the face and shaken. In Santa Clara, CA, three officers beat a mentally ill inmate so badly that his spleen burst, causing him to bleed to death internally. He had abrasions from his head all the way down to his ankles. The same three officers that beat him to death had already been facing assault charges for beating another mentally ill inmate.
Then, three cases which many of us know about. The Charleston Church Shooting, a horrific hate crime committed by a criminal who went on record saying he does not regret what he did. Nine people were murdered at the hands of this shooter because he felt the black community had committed crimes against him. Then, Sandy Hook elementary school, where a man shot 20 students between ages 5 and 7, as well as 6 adult staff members. Lastly, the night club shooting in Orlando, Florida, where a man shot 102 people, killing 49 of them. It was one of the deadliest hate crimes the country has seen in recent history.
These cases are not mere violations of other lives, but of innocent lives, sometimes lives of children who are incapable of protecting or defending themselves. Sometimes the sheer amount of lives lost- the amount of damage done to society by that criminal- would seem enough of a reason to say capital punishment is morally permissible. It is not enough for society to argue that we can’t morally justify killing the killer. We say that the damage done by the most horrific criminals, committing the most horrific crimes, is so much more detrimental to the overall morality of society than executing them.