Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Marc Jampole: By killing Boston Marathon bomber, we stoop to his level of barbarism and depravity

The jury that sentenced Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death had a choice. They could have imprisoned Tsarnaev for life. But these 12 supposedly civilized men and women chose to do unto the Boston Marathon bomber what he had done unto others.

I wonder whether any of the 12 have ever killed another human being before—from a plane, at sniper’s distance, or up close. I wonder whether they would have all voted to put Tsarnaev to death if they had to pull the trigger or push the button that ends his life.

It’s so much easier to vote “yes,” almost as easy as pulling the toggle that kills a dozen enemy soldiers in a video game.

Killing is killing, no matter what.

Even if the death penalty served as a deterrent, it would still be wrong on moral and ethical grounds. But most studies conclude that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent. It seems that at the moment of pulling the trigger, planting the bomb, applying the poison, lighting the fire, pushing the accelerator to the floor or someone off the roof—at the moment of committing a capital crime, perpetrators don’t consider or discount the possible consequence.

This essay is not the place to discuss the morality of war, but I think we can all agree that lots of soldiers come home from battle with deep psychological wounds that heal slowly and leave ugly scars. We call it post-traumatic stress disorder, but we could just as well call it the “killing” disease, because having to kill another person disgusts and shames normal people so much that it makes them ill. Psychopaths and sociopaths are different. Maybe killing other human beings is

necessary in war, and maybe not, but it is never necessary in peace, which makes it always wrong.

It makes me wonder whether members of a jury that brings in a death sentence suffer the same cold night sweats, panic attacks, inability to concentrate, sudden rages and other symptoms of the soldier returned from the killing fields.

Killing is killing, no matter what.

Most other nations of the world have abolished the death penalty, 140 according to Amnesty International. The United States is one of a mere 22 countries that held executions in 2013. But then again, we also incarcerate one quarter of the Earth’s prisoners, making us the world’s largest jailor, and perhaps it’s bloodiest, too. Both the left and right are making noise about ending the system of “mass incarceration” that has made America the land of the jailed. Part of this movement to make the criminal justice system fairer, more efficient and less costly should be ending capital punishment once and for all. It’s time we returned to the circle of civilized nations.

Meanwhile, we should understand that one death is almost as bad as six, or 60. Like all juries that vote unanimously to kill a fellow human being—even one as reprehensible as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—the Boston marathon bomber jury has broken no law. In fact, it has enforced one. But it doing so, these 12 citizens have brought new shame to the United States and all Americans.

copyright 2015 Marc Jampole

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