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TT Humanist Statement on the Death Penalty
It is understandable that the latest callous and bold murders would cause many citizens to call for hangings of convicted murderers. Unfortunately, executions would not solve the country’s crime problem and might even cause it to worsen. It may not be coincidental that, after the hanging of the Chadee gang in 1999, the murder rate increased by two percent by the following year.
It is well established that the death penalty does not deter crime. Bible believers can note that the threat did not even work for Yahweh, who told Adam and Eve not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge or they would surely die. Yet still they ate. And, while religious fundamentalists see no need to justify their position beyond saying that this is God’s law, it must be noted that their God’s sanction is not merely for murder, but also for adultery, homosexuality, and wearing clothes made of two different materials.
Some persons argue that, even if the death penalty is not a deterrent, murderers should still be hanged as punishment for their crime. But you cannot punish someone who is dead, and therefore killing someone as a punishment is a contradiction in terms. The purpose of punishment should not be to satisfy a thirst for revenge but to bring about a change in behaviour. The death penalty does not do this. Nor can the argument be made that executing a murderer safeguards society from that individual, since imprisonment for life also accomplishes this - without running the risk of executing an innocent person.
The real danger of shouting for executions, however, is that it allows the politicians to pretend they are tough on crime. This is why both the Government and Opposition are in favour of it. But the increasing spate of murders has not happened in a social vacuum. There are specific factors which have created this situation, and when these factors are dealt with, crime will go down. Key questions, among many, would be: What is the link between the URP and murder? What are the links, if any, between corrupt police officers and kidnappings? How has the education system helped produce criminals?
These are complex issues, requiring complex answers and strategies. But there is no reason to believe that the crime problem is amenable to simplistic solutions. Indeed, part of the reason we have not yet got a handle on crime may be that too many people think there are easy answers.
T&T Humanist Association