IS THE DEATH PENALTY MORAL?
Ever since I participated in a debate on the death penalty in high school, in 1963, I have opposed it for all the reasons articulated by Sunil Dutta in “Kill the Death Penalty” [Feb. 26]. I appreciated his juxtaposing total homicides–and the appallingly high rate of unsolved homicides–with the number of executions, showing the arbitrary nature of the imposition of the death penalty.
Death penalty opponents should focus on what it does to the soul of the nation that engages in the death penalty. Isn’t it a mark of our failure that we even engage in such a barbaric practice? Isn’t the most powerful democracy in the history of the world simply better than this?
Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.
Sunil Dutta states that the most moral and legal argument against capital punishment is that it leads to execution of the innocent. The simple answer to that is that only indisputably guilty criminals should be given capital sentences. No person of questionable guilt should be executed. In a just and humane society, the death penalty should be carried out as comfortably as possible with no animosity or emotion other than sorrow that the enormity of the criminality made it necessary.
Dutta’s arguments against capital punishment are primarily criticisms of an error-prone judicial system. But they have nothing to do with capital punishment. It can stand on its own merits. Going to medically induced sleep is far less barbaric than spending the remaining years of life in a cramped prison cell. It is only fair that capital punishment should get a hearing on its own merits.
WILLIAM N. McNAIRN
Buffalo Grove, Ill.
For me, the most compelling arguments against the death penalty include a discussion of the history of punishment. Just a few hundred years ago punishments were unimaginably cruel and very public. As human society continues to evolve, I hope we will see crime for the social illness that it is and treat it as we should be treating drug addiction.
Life in prison without parole is not, as Sunil Dutta argues, “an effective alternative,” and it is not “moral.” Life without parole is not moral because it strips those sentenced to that fate of all hope and greatly reduces the chances that public interest lawyers will take the cases of those who maintain their innocence. Judges also do not give the cases the same care on postconviction appeals, because they need not worry about upholding a death sentence. And many corrections officers detest the sentence, because it takes away the carrot of possible freedom for good behavior and reduces the stick of additional punishment. Nor does life without parole reduce murder rates. It insures that murderers remain incarcerated long after they could hurt society again–at great expense to the public. Life sentences with the possibility of parole after long years in prison are far more effective and far more humane to both the convicted and those who guard them. Yes, life without parole makes it easier for jurors to oppose death. But maximum security prisons are often hellholes. Progressives should oppose both the death penalty and life without parole. Neither killing nor throwing away the key is the answer, especially when we know that at least some of those sentenced are innocent.
LEWIS M. STEEL
Christopher Jean is correct to point out the dehumanizing nature of the death penalty. I also agree with John Walker that as we continue to evolve as a society, the nature of punishment changes too. Unfortunately, when it comes to the death penalty, we are far behind and far less civilized than other industrialized nations. Regarding executing indisputably guilty criminals–when William McNairn finds a just system devised by humans, I will gladly reconsider my views. Even under a (hypothetically) perfectly just criminal-justice system, I would have difficulty supporting the death penalty, because once a criminal is in custody, using violence against him simply perpetuates the vicious cycle of revenge, in which there are no winners.
Lewis Steel believes life in prison without parole is neither moral nor effective. He is wrong. Yes, there are practical difficulties in keeping criminals in prison until they die, and those must be addressed. However, this alternative is definitely more moral than executing the murderer. Steel states that life without parole doesn’t reduce the murder rate–the death penalty doesn’t either. Prosecution costs for capital cases are enormous, and life imprisonment turns out to be cheaper than executions. Maximum security prisons may be hellholes, but that is another topic. I do not agree that murderers should ever be paroled. Their victims never get a second chance, and their victims’ families can never forget the pain or overcome the loss. My sympathy lies with the victims.
OUR WAR ON IMMIGRANTS
Re “Lockdown in Greeley, How Immigration Raids Terrorized a Colorado Town” by Marc Cooper [Feb. 26]. Why is The Nation so intent on jamming Latino illegal aliens down the throats of their readers and ignoring the other side of the story? I don’t know anyone who is not in favor of sending these people back home and cracking down on corporate America for hiring them. They are costing taxpayers a fortune while enriching corporate America, and they are changing the fabric of American culture. America is importing poverty, something we have plenty of already, since the Republicans and corporations have been running the country. Immigration needs to be controlled, and we need a balance of people coming in from different countries. There are too many Hispanics and Latinos in the country, and they shouldn’t be rewarded for breaking the law.
ICE’s Gestapo tactics in Greeley are reprehensible. However, they project an image, a grotesque image, south of the border, which may deter some people considering illegal entry into the United States.
“There’s no information, no accountability,” says Sylvia Martinez, quoted by Marc Cooper. Is there a better short definition of the end of democracy? First they did these things overseas; now they do them domestically to noncitizens; finally they will do them to the rest of us.
Undocumented workers are lowering wages for the working class in the United States and stunting needed reforms in Mexico. Meatpacking jobs used to pay solidly middle-class wages. Tolerating a flood of mostly cheap laborers is a betrayal of the working class. Liberals should put the focus on who is benefiting from the northern migration, which has created a large pool of low-wage laborers whose members don’t have the right to vote. US corporations, the US ownership class and the ruling elite in Mexico are the clear winners. Liberals should remind others that George W. Bush flooded the Gulf Coast with undocumented workers after Hurricane Katrina by suspending prevailing-wage laws. And liberals should work to abolish what amounts to a class of indentured servants by supporting citizenship rights for undocumented workers and addressing why so many people are leaving their homeland and families south of the border. The hypocrisy of the xenophobes should be pointed out.
“The game until now has been an elaborate choreography among the employers who need the immigrant workers, the immigrants who want these jobs, the communities who need them, the cattlemen who depend on them and the government whose basic motto has been: Don’t ask, don’t tell,” says an immigrant advocate. The employers don’t “need” the immigrant workers. The corporations profit from paying coolie wages to the illegals. The communities certainly don’t need them. Many communities are hard-pressed to deal with the exploding immigrant population. The cattlemen depend on the immigrants the same way the corporations do. The cheap labor is a source to be exploited. Product prices would increase if corporations were forced to pay fair wages to US citizens to perform unsavory or labor-intensive jobs. I, for one, would gladly pay more for products made in this country, by citizen labor.
Seaid Valley, Calif.
Marc Cooper calls the use of a stolen Social Security number a victimless crime. My daughter-in-law had her application for low- income medical benefits denied because she had too much income. Her Social Security number was being used by a man in another county. Although it was obvious that this was not her income, she is the one who has to establish her identity, fight to retain her health benefits, apply for a new SS number and wait a year because of the backlog. Perhaps Cooper would be so kind to extend his medical benefits to her.
As a Chicano, here are my credentials: •grew up supporting the UFW boycotts •family participated in the East LA walkouts •union family •fought in Nica/Honduras against the contras •worked to sue the US at the World Court •worked for peace/human rights in El Salvador/Guatemala •worked with Los Angeles to pass a sanctuary ordinance for activists in Central America •director of programs dealing with the homeless, gangs, welform, kinship, etc. Enough said. Any illegal alien in this country is a disgrace, a criminal and needs to be sent back to their country of origin. My grandparents came here from Mexico legally. It took many years, but they didn’t break in and demand services, Spanish, etc.
Marc Cooper did an excellent job of describing the political landscape here in Colorado. We have entered into a new era in this state. Any police officer who “suspects” that someone is an undocumented immigrant may now take that person into custody and hold him until his documentation is verified. What exactly would you base that suspicion on in a country full of immigrants?
As a nation, if we want different results we had better start doing different things. Our trade policies, our loan policies and our foreign aid dollars continue to reward corrupt and inhumane governments, creating the economic and human disasters that spur immigration. It is time to recognize the reality of immigration. A sane, just, rational system must replace the one we have now. The only way to secure our borders and establish order is to create a system that respects human rights and economic reality.
NO RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT
Rohnert Park, Calif.
There was an erratum in your erratum! In your February 5 correction of the location of the 1976 Republican National Convention, you described Kansas City, Kansas, as being “across the river” from Kansas City, Missouri. Wrong! Both Kansas Cities are on the south bank of the Missouri River. There is the Kansas River, a small tributary that flows in from Topeka to the west, but it divides Kansas City, Kansas, in two rather than the two Kansas Cities from each other. The only thing between Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, is a line on a map.
We hope Kansas City (Missouri)’s native son–our Deadline Poet, Calvin Trillin–does not get wind of our indiscretion. –The Editors
CORRECTION & CLARIFICATION
In Ari Berman’s “K Street’s Favorite Democrat” [March 19], Milton Datsopoulos’s last name was misspelled.
In Mark Green’s “How to Fix Our Democracy” [March 12], the word “effectively” was cut from a reference to African-Americans getting the vote in 1965. African-American men did officially get the vote in 1870; but they “effectively” won that right with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. We thank our many alert readers who wrote in to take issue with us.