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Tori and the Lynch Mob

Posted 2009-05-21 Tags: None

I, along with many other people in Canada, have been following along on the Tori Stafford case and were distressed at the grisly conclusion (cbc article) that, for me, hits very close to home. They are currently looking for the poor little girl's body very close to where I live, and even closer to where I grew up and it makes me sick to think that something so heinous could happen so close to my home and life. What makes me feel even sicker is the fact that I have a beautiful little girl as well; I cannot begin to understand what Tori's parents are feeling.

Intro done - you're all caught up. Now I want to talk about lynching.

In that CBC article that I link to way up at the top, there seems to be a general consensus that the two people who are allegedly (<+++ note the emphasis on that there word - it is important) responsible for the abduction and death of the little girl should be summarily executed so as to have some sort of "eye for an eye" punishment visited upon them. I am unsure about whether that makes any sort of sense.

Let us pretend for a moment that these two people are guilty; the trial has already happened and monumentally conclusive evidence has appeared that proves beyond any kind of a doubt that these two people are murderers. Should they be put to death for their crimes? Many people are crying out for blood, as if retribution of this sort is going to make things better. Is it a fitting testament to Tori that her death causes more death? Capital punishment, in effect, makes Tori a posthumous killer, since we (<+++ note the emphasis on that there word - it is important) would be killing in her name. Is that right?

Continue with the thought that these people are guilty, and let's add a new "pretend" rule: we rationalize away the last point, which is certainly possible. "They" not "we" are killing the people at fault, because it is a punishment for a crime commited, and thus, as a punishment, it is not really in Tori's name, but in the name of the law (not necessarily my point of view, but there's no "right" point of view in this case, just "different"). Is this a suitable punishment for what these people have done? There are two groups of people that probably have something to say on the matter - afterlife believers, and afterlife non-believers.

If you believe in an afterlife, then what you are effectively doing is letting the afterlife sort out the details of the punishment - it's putting off the responsibility of society to deal with its negative aspects. Anecdotally, this seems to be the most vocal group calling for the death penalty - those who want to let "God sort 'em out" - and though I don't want to point fingers, Christians seem to make up the majority of these, which makes very little sense to me. They are very quick to point out that an "eye for an eye" is a suggested punishment, but are quick to forget "do not repay evil with evil" or "love your enemy as you love yourself"; it seems hypocritical to me to present yourself as a Christian, and yet support any sort of death penalty.

If you do not believe in an afterlife, then you're probably not asking for the death penalty in this particular instance, unless you are a pragmatic economist. It costs a lot to keep these people in jail. I have no rebuttal for this particular point - it's a clear winner.

So, continue the thought game. Let's suppose you can rationalize away the previous point and made peace with the afterlife mopping up the messes of society. You are out for blood, and want the maximum punishment - does capital punishment really make sense? Wouldn't forcing the person to live with their choices be far more difficult? One of the main causes of suicide is an inability to continue living in the face of overwhelming difficulty or pain. In fact, doctor-assisted suicide is, by many people, seen as a boon to those living with pain. Shouldn't these points be diametrically opposed?

End the thought game - and come back to reality. These points do not even consider the possible mistakes that could be made, the logistics of investigation, trial, retrial, that make up our judiciary system. These two people may be innocent; "facts" can be deceiving, and there are many previous cases of people who looked ridiculously guilty being proven innocent years later. Our inability to discern truth from the facts presented is one of the biggest problems with a death penalty. What would we have told Guy Paul Morin's family if he had been put to death for a remarkably similar crime? "Whoops?" "We may not have caught the right guy, but at least we killed him?"

Last of all, I'm not sure that we can realistically support a death penalty in our society with the current state of the media. Though the CBC is better than just about every American news outlet, it still paints a picture of guilt against these two people. It does not create of them caricatures that are monsters, but in every word there is subtext spelling out "killer". Which, I admit, makes for better copy than "suspect", but it is insidious and twisted - how can these people be given a fair trial when the media has already painted them as killers?