Sunday, March 13, 2005

China Acts to Reduce Use of Death Penalty

Last night at the gym I caught the beginning of 48 Hours: Mystery! at the tail end of my work-out. 48 Hours: Mystery deals primarily with unsolved crimes and cases where the person convicted of the crime in all likelihood is innocent of it. Such was the case presented this Saturday. I am a sucker for this kind of thing (my favorite recreational reading is a good mystery), so I rushed home and watched the rest of what turned out to be a disturbing story of police coercion, sloppy detective work and a rush to judgment that has cost a young man more than twelve years of his life in prison.

Horrific as this story is, it could of course be worse. The young man who is currently alive in jail could have been given the death penalty. He could have been killed already (especially if he'd had the misfortune to have been convicted in Texas), after which point any redress, while not exactly besides the point, can't possibly begin to correct the injustice committed.

I realize this may put me in the minority, but I'm very much against the death penalty. You can't unkill an innocent man, for one thing. And I question the logic whereby we condemn killing but allow the state to execute people in our name. I share little common ground with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, but I vividly recall a statement he made in an interview a number of years ago, in which he denounced the death penalty because he believes that it "increases the level of barbarism in society." I couldn't agree more.

Which is why I was very heartened to receive this story from JR, who comments here and at Peking Duck.
China hinted at reform of the death penalty on Wednesday in a supreme court report to parliament that also touched issues ranging from corruption to social order in the face of rapid change…

…The top court relinquished the power of final review in death penalty cases during a crime-fighting campaign in the 1980s, but the leadership has been studying how to restore that power to help regulate use of the death sentence.

Officials say the move would simplify an irregular process and some estimates say it could quickly reduce the number of executions by 30 percent.

Lower courts have been criticised for lack of professionalism and consistency in meting out the death penalty, but some have been reluctant to relinquish the power…

…Currently, 68 crimes can merit the death penalty in China and most are non-violent. Experts had called for a "kill fewer, kill carefully" policy towards suspects of non-violent crimes, state media said in August.

Well, "kill fewer, kill carefully" may not not reach the level of Gandhi, but it's a start. It's not just those we execute and their families and friends who are affected by the death penalty, I believe. It is the executioners as well, the killers who belong to us. It is everyone who participates in the machinery of death. This kind of state-sanctioned violence is like a virus that makes its way through a society. It infects and coarsens us all, cheapening the value of individual lives. If we ask ourselves honestly, what sort of place do we wish to live in, I believe that the answer will not include one in which people are sacrificed to feed our notion of righteous revenge, which is really a mask for inchoate, unexamined frustration and rage.

Thanks to JR, for bringing this story to my attention.


JR said...

Hey Lisa,
You are welcome, glad to see your comment is working again.

Other Lisa said...

The comments are still a little iffy; I think it's a Blogger problem, so if you have trouble, try again in a few minutes...

I really do appreciate everyone's comments. I think aside from having a personal soapbox, the point of doing a blog like this is to engage in a dialog. To that end, I'm open to any and all suggestions for posts. And yes, I will get around to the neocons and China soon...and maybe even the Anti-secession law...