One of the lines of argument most commonly pursued by those advocating capital punishment relates to the feelings of a victim’s family. Something along the lines of “how would you feel if someone you cared about was snatched from you by an act of deliberate murder?”. It’s an interesting question, designed to play on the emotional charge that fuses with a more rational one on both sides of the debate. It would be unfair to claim that some sort of high ground in either area clearly resides with one side or the other.
It also begs certain questions of its own – who counts as a person’s ‘loved ones’? Are those who favour capital punishment willing to listen to relatives and close friends who are against it on moral and/or religious grounds, regardless of the circumstances? And how much consideration, if any, should be given to the views of people claiming to be a murder victim’s representatives on earth when deciding how a criminal should be punished?
Back to the original question – how would I feel? The only totally honest answer I could give you is that, having never been there, I do not know, nor does anybody else who has not been in that situation. For the sake of anyone reading this, I sincerely hope that none of us have the misfortune to find out. Would I want the person responsible to be sentenced to death? Quite possibly. How I’d like to think I would react while mulling it over rationally is pretty fucking irrelevant, it must be said.
However, a significant minority remain absolutely opposed to the notion of capital punishment, even after they have themselves become by proxy victims of a horrific crime. If we’re taking this argument about ‘loved ones’ seriously, then presumably those favouring the death penalty will refuse to execute a person convicted of murder if relatives/friends are opposed, regardless of the circumstances? This anomaly highlights the many flaws in the argument around by proxy victims and how they feel a criminal should be dealt with.
A serial killer will leave multiple families, made up of numerous individuals who may have very different views on the question of how he or she ought to be punished. Should conflicted households work on a one-member, one-vote basis, or have a self-appointed foreman cast a trade union style ‘block vote’ on their behalf? Maybe these families can all get together under some sort of electoral college system? And what about those victims where the support network amongst relatives broke down prior to their death? Is it ok to have a close friend stand in as a substitute?
Hopefully these questions demonstrate just how ludicrous this line of argument actually is. You don’t hear it brought up in the discussion of other crimes, precisely because it fails any sort of sane, rational test. The reality is that people with an emotional stake in an issue are not the best-placed to decide how it should be resolved – surely this is what judges are for? A murderer will most likely have utterly blameless relatives and friends of their own, some of whom will continue to care about that person, regardless of what they have done and whether or not they deserve it. Horrific crimes usually devastate the families of all involved.
I mean, who gets to play god here and decide that some people should be heard and others ignored?
And while I understand the capacity of murder to make sane, rational people take leave of their senses, that does not ultimately make it right.
When you boil this down, it is ultimately a lazy argument, based on a presumption that because most of those affected, most of the time would be either comfortable with or support the notion of execution, then that in itself is a reason for its re-introduction. Look, if you’re going to argue for or against something, then do so on the merits of your case and any supporting evidence, facts or knowledge that you can reference. “Most people agree with me” ranks right up there with “do you have kids?” in terms of the cheapest and most intellectually bankrupt threads that a person can follow about anything, ever.
If I’m ever murdered. the one thing of which I’m certain is that I would not want anyone subsequently appointing him or herself as my representative on earth. Nobody tells me what to think now and I wouldn’t want someone else to believe that they could just because I happened to be dead.
I’ll be back with the fourth and final part of this series very soon – take care.