I am breaking form tonight by throwing an extra post in. I just have to say something about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev getting the death penalty. Regular readers know: I don’t believe in it. Not for Pol Pot. Not for Hitler. Not for anyone. I just don’t see the moral or practical argument for it. But there is more to it than my general philosophical opposition to the death penalty.
There really isn’t any doubt that if his brother, Tamerlan, had been captured alive, that Dzhokhar would not be put to death. This is all about a cultural rite. The society feels the need to have a public execution to solemnize the terrorist act. Tamerlan’s death on the street wasn’t good enough because it had no ritual value. I understand that symbols matters. But this strikes me as pathetic, especially since not one in a hundred people understand that this is what is going on.
In addition to this, it really bothers me that people think that the Boston Marathon bombing was some especially vile act. There are plenty of people who raped, tortured, and murdered many others who didn’t get the death penalty. As a matter of fact, if Tsarnaev had been tried at the state level, he would not have faced the death penalty. What kind of “justice” system do we have where someone’s fate depends upon which bureaucratic structure tries you? But I know what the death penalty apologists respond with. They will say something to the effect that it doesn’t matter about justice in those other cases, we have a chance for justice in this case. That is so ridiculous that it shouldn’t need to be countered. But let me just say that random acts of “justice” is an injustice.
I suppose what really bugs me is that most people will cheer this decision. And that means that collectively, we are just as morally bankrupt as the Tsarnaev brothers were. I understand, we think we have justice on our side. But no one has suggested that the Tsarnaev brothers were psychopaths; they too thought they had justice on their side. They thought they were paying America back for something or other. People always have reasons for doing things. And they always justify what they do — most especially when they murder.
Over at The Intercept, Murtaza Hussain noted, “US Attorney Carmen M Ortiz said in her statement today, the execution of Dzhokhar will send a message that ‘we are not intimidated.'” Really?! Is that the message that it sends? The implication is that it sends that message to the rest of the world. But I don’t think the rest of the world really cares. What Ortiz didn’t mean, but which is correct, is that it sends a message to the American people that “we are not intimidated.” And it is necessary to send that message because we are intimidated. It takes almost nothing to cause us to cower in fear. That’s why spending almost as much money on our military as the rest of the world combined is still not enough for us. We are so afraid that we jump when a young man flips off a security camera.
This is a sad day — not especially for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — but for us.
Update (15 May 2015 11:57 pm)
If Charlie Pierce had managed to publish his end of the weekend post earlier, I wouldn’t have felt the need to write this. He said pretty much what I said. This sums it up: