Penalty threatens to dehumanize

By admin Feb 11, 2012

Mallika Kavadi, Staff Writer

The issue of death penalty is an interesting one. 140 countries have abolished the death penalty, but 24 states in the U.S.A. and countries like India and China still practice it.

The idea of justice as an “eye for an eye” is still rampant, as evidenced by the “justice has been done” statement President Obama gave last year after Osama Bin Laden’s death. Even though Illinois has abolished death penalty, it is not difficult to relapse into the mentality of “those who have killed deserve to be killed.” It is a reaction of anger and what may even seem like common sense.

Going beyond that and inspecting whether it is truly justified is more difficult, but that is what we need to do if we have to ensure fairness.

Sister Prejean talked about one murderer who was unable to feel any remorse for the crimes he had committed. When she tried to understand why this may be, she realized it was because he had grown so accustomed to being tough in his street life. It was difficult for him to understand  and empathize with others. Similarly, when the death penalty is seen as fair, it is because we have toughened ourselves up.

We say this is the way it is and they deserve it. We don’t consider that they are humans, and the ways in which we are depriving them of their humanity and, in doing, so losing ours. Even if the actions are condemnable, even if we have the right to protect ourselves, what right do we have to infringe human rights?

Sister Prejean said justice is done when the social fabric that is torn is mended, when the damage is repaired.

Our current mentality defines justice by punishing the criminals rather than reforming them. The example of “War on Drugs” shows how this approach has failed. Since toughening up drug laws, America has seen an unprecedented rate of mass incarceration where a disproportionate number of prisoners are poor African- Americans.

It has done nothing to reduce drug abuse and has, in fact, increased crimes committed to obtain the drugs and made rehabilitation for these people even more difficult.

How has this tough attitude helped to serve justice? The social fabric has been torn further, resulting in greater inequality and deprivation for those who were already disadvantaged. Our “fair and legitimate” system is not mending or healing the damage, it is increasing it.

The most inspiring moral of Sister Helen Prejean’s story is to avoid injustice. And to notice it in the first place, it is important to have an open mind so we can see the whole picture, stepping outside our regular point of view from the point of view of another.

These criminals, like every other individual are creations of the society. As members as well and fellow products of that society, we have responsibility for everyone else in our society.  Before passing judgement we need to remember this.

If judgement is passed with a simplistic labelling of black and white, without considering all the dimensions, injustice is more likely to occur while the real process of mending and of healing is more likely to be overlooked. But we are empowered by our imagination to prevent this from happening, only if we just remember to use it.


By admin

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