Ex­e­cu­tion is the lesser evil

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Charles Ca­tor Grey­mont, Joburg

EORGE Devenish’s let­ter “Why the death penalty isn’t the so­lu­tion in South Africa” (The Star, Novem­ber 13) re­quires a re­sponse – it is one-sided.

He says the most pow­er­ful ar­gu­ment in favour of it, is ret­ri­bu­tion. No, the most pow­er­ful ar­gu­ment in favour of the death penalty is sav­ing the lives of law-abid­ing South Africans.

Dur­ing the four years from 1984 to 1987 when the death penalty was in force, there were 37 891 mur­ders and 537 ex­e­cu­tions. As a re­sult of the ne­go­ti­a­tions, a mora­to­rium was in­tro­duced by Pres­i­dent De Klerk in Fe­bru­ary 1990. Dur­ing the four years from 1991 to 1994 after the mora­to­rium, there were 72 551 mur­ders and ob­vi­ously no ex­e­cu­tions.

Anal­y­sis shows: With the death penalty in place, there was an an­nual av­er­age of 9 473 mur­ders and 134 ex­e­cu­tions; with­out the penalty, there was an av­er­age of 18 138 mur­ders a year. That’s an in­crease of 8 665 mur­ders a year. The num­ber of mur­ders in­creased by over 90 per­cent as a re­sult of the

Gabo­li­tion of the death penalty.

This means over the 24 years since it was abol­ished, we have ex­changed the deaths of about 3 432 con­victed mur­der­ers for those of about 207 960 law-abid­ing cit­i­zens. That seems a high price to pay for a per­ceived moral high ground es­pe­cially if you be­lieve lives do in­deed have any value.

Ac­cord­ing to the con­stitu- tion, all South Africans are equal, but death penalty abo­li­tion­ists seem to be­lieve the life of one con­victed mur­derer is more pre­cious than the lives of law- abid­ing cit­i­zens.

Let’s con­sider Devenish’s con­tention that there’s no con­clu­sive ev­i­dence that it’s more of a de­ter­rent than life im­pris­on­ment – that’s de­mol­ished by the fig­ures above.

Sec­ond, that the death penalty is an ir­re­vo­ca­ble pun­ish­ment is what makes it a pow­er­ful de­ter­rent. Since le­gal sys­tems are run by hu­mans, they are sub­ject to er­ror. But since it is lit­er­ally a life and death is­sue, there is vastly im­proved foren­sic ev­i­dence avail­able; and since judg­ments are sub­ject to ap­peal, the chances of a mis­take are re­mote. Daily hun­dreds die from er­rors of judg­ment in in­dus­trial, do­mes­tic, recre­ational and traf­fic ac­ci­dents and life­style choices. Th­ese deaths are ac­cepted with equa­nim­ity.

Third, what’s bar­baric about a lethal in­jec­tion when thou­sands of peo­ple choose to die that way?

Fourth, that there is in­vari- ably a racial bias in im­pos­ing the penalty is it­self a bi­ased view. In a so­ci­ety that claims equal­ity, all peo­ple must be treated equally. If that means of­fend­ing one race, so be it.

Fifth, that the death penalty is an ar­bi­trary pun­ish­ment since it is not im­posed con­sis­tently is not only a gen­er­al­i­sa­tion, since no law is ever ap­plied with me­chan­i­cal con­sis­tency, it’s in­cor­rect, be­cause the out­come is al­ways open to av­enues of ap­peal.

Fi­nally, we have the claim that the death penalty is morally, philo­soph­i­cally and the­o­log­i­cally ques­tion­able. I am not sure to what ex­tent the ab­stract views of philoso­phers and the­olo­gians are rel­e­vant to a sit­u­a­tion as com­plex and trou­bled as South Africa to­day.

Some may re­gard the death penalty as ab­hor­rent, but much more so are the ac­tions of heav­ily armed, an­ar­chis­tic crim­i­nals on their way, with the help of cor­rupt cops, to achiev­ing crit­i­cal mass in a nearly de­fence­less so­ci­ety.

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