I just got an appeal in my e-mail asking me to contact my governor because the state is poised to bring back an old method of execution. Specifically, the e-mail calls this method of execution “barbaric” and says that we need to act fast to prevent the state from taking this giant step backwards. Which got me thinking. Is it?
Why are we debating about the methods we use to kill people? Let me say that again – why are we focusing the debate on the methods we use to kill people? Has anyone noticed that we’re still killing people? Why should we be making it more socially acceptable? Why should we be making it more palatable for the public?
We don’t like to say that we kill people, so we use the word “execute.” But what does that mean? The word means to carry out or carry through. It’s come to mean “to put to death according to law” or “to murder or assassinate” because we keep using it that way – but it’s a euphemism. So I say if we’re going to do the deed, let’s call it what it is. Putting to death according to the law. We are killing people.
Now, I understand why attorneys who are appealing death sentences often appeal on the grounds of the methods used. If I were trying to save someone’s life I would use every method open to me, and that would include going after methods. But for the rest of us, I think it is distracting from the real issue. While we debate whether it’s better to hang people to death, or electrocute them, or stand them in front of firing squads, or give them lethal doses of drugs, we are still killing people. We put 28 people to death in the U.S. in 2015 (overwhelmingly black and latino).
Let us consider Exodus 20:13. Much depends upon the translation of the Hebrew here. Some translate ratzach as murder, and some as kill. But the form of the verb is clear. It is not an intense form – there is no intensity added. The command is You shall not do ratzach. Further, the command is in the second person singular. It is aimed at each one of us individually. YOU, yes YOU sitting there reading this, YOU shall not kill. Perhaps you translate that as you shall not murder. But where do we draw that line?
When we kill people, we are diminished. J.K. Rowling has told us that this is how we create horcruxes – we divide our own souls. And we have done something irreversible. We cannot say “I’m sorry” and make it all better. It doesn’t matter how we do it. We can give people teddy bears and tuck them in and kill them in their sleep, and they will still be dead. And we will still be responsible.
Perhaps we ought to stick with the more gruesome methods of putting people to death. Perhaps we ought to go back to firing squads and hangings. Let us keep the hard truths in front of the people. Dead is dead.
That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.