They say it's the number of people I killed, I say it's the principle.
Not only is Steve Benson's editorial cartoon instinctively offensive, it reflects an intellect confused by such basic concepts as guilt and innocence and more profound ones such as evil and justice. The cartoon's message - the slaughter of the innocent is the moral equal of the execution of our worst human rights violators. Moral relativism hits a new low.
Many opponents of the death penalty equate execution and murder, believing that if two acts have the same ending or result. then those two acts are morally equivalent. Such a conclusion reveals a fundamental inability to make moral distinctions. For example is the legal taking of a car to satisfy a debt the same as auto theft? Both result in the loss of property. Are kidnapping and legal incarceration the same? Both result in imprisonment against one's will. Is killing in self-defense the same as capital murder? Both end in taking of human life. Are rape and making love the same? Both may result in sexual intercourse. Those capable of making moral distinctions find it easy to answer such questions with a resounding NO! Society has the moral right and duty to punish those who injure the innocent and also those who threaten the tranquility of a democratic state. Both the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court give us the legal right to execute under extremely restrictive circumstances. But, does the state have the moral right to punish with death?
The most common support for the death penalty derives from the belief in just punishment, a belief that often incorporates the concepts of just desserts, escalating punishments, retribution and the biblically inspired atonement. Just punishment is a gut feeling every bit as much as it is reasoned conclusion. There are crimes that call out for the death penalty. Incredible acts of evil, which cause so much horror and pain, deserve the ultimate sanction. Our criminal justice system puts that crucial decision in the hands of a jury or a judge. Their reasoned response may reflect the ultimate condemnation of society by imposing the death penalty. Theoretically, our criminal justice system will punish worse crimes with more severe sanctions, a concept with which all reasoned thinkers would concur. Horrendous criminals, such as pedophiles and serial rapists, certainly deserve life without parole. What of those pedophiles and rapists who also murder their victims? Would justice be served by giving the same sentence for a more severe crime? Logic and justice say "no". In those jurisdictions that have capital punishment, justice is denied in those instances where the crime reflects the worst human rights violations- capital murder- and the sentence is not death.
What of mercy? Aren't we compassionate enough to forego the ultimate sanction in all cases? The answer is clearly "yes". We have foregone executions in 99.92% of all murders since 1973. But, should we? There can be no mercy without justice. If all cases receive mercy then we set no standard for mercy or for justice, and we therefore have neither. Justice requires a balance - the ultimate sanction for the worst crime.
It is the goal of all good editorial cartoons to stimulate thought and dialogue. In the case of Steve Benson's subject work, he has certainly done that. But, so too would an editorial cartoon which presents the slaughter and torture of 6 million innocent Jews as the judicial hanging of the Nazis who worked so hard for the FINAL SOLUTION as moral equals. Drawing moral distinctions within our own lives is a critical part of our development as individuals and as a society. Is it too much to ask that editorial cartoonists think before they draw?
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