November 21, 2005

The death penalty

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Hmmm, a lot of things in the news have been annoying me in the past few days…

Why is taking the life of a police officer worse than that of any other human being? Saying this implies that a police officer's life is more important than that of any other. Could it not be viewed as more terrible to take the life of a child? By choosing to work in the emergency services police officers must be accepting that they will put themselves in more danger than your average person during a day at the office. Not to say that taking a bullet is part of the job, but risk is, presumably, expected.

Surely the death penalty is either right or wrong and should be applied to all murderers or none at all? Why is there one rule for one murderer and another for another? Who's to say that this murderer was any more evil than, say, a serial killer whose attacks were all premeditated and meticulously planned?

The ex-Met Police chief quoted in the above article describes the murderer as a 'monster who executed this young woman in cold blood' and his act as 'pure evil'. Would it not also be reasonable to think that the murderer was acting partly through panic? I'm sure killing a police officer was probably not part of the plan and it was not premeditated. Does that make his crime worse or better? Can you even define a murder as being worse or better than any other?

Something that confused me highly was the extreme reaction of the ex-chief-of-police. He said that all his life he has been against the death penalty, but that this murder has changed his mind. In another article I read that 36 police officers have been murdered in the line of duty in the past two decades. Why, then, has he changed his mind this time? Perhaps because she was the first woman to be murdered in a criminal case?

The same guy also says that if the death penalty is not imposed as a result of this murder then 'wrong really has finally totally triumphed over right and all civilised society, all we hold dear, is the loser'. I am unsure of exactly where I stand on the death penalty issue, but have a gut feeling that 'an eye for an eye' is not the basis for a civilised society.

On the radio show I was listening to this morning someone called for a life sentence to mean life instead of introducing the death penalty. This is, however, an unrealistic goal as prisons are already overcrowded. There is also an argument that the taxpayer shouldn't have to keep criminals fed an housed for the length of their lives. But to introduce the death penalty, even in part, to solve the problem of overcrowding in prisons is deeply wrong. So what do we do?

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  1. It's very worrying, isn't it? As though the life of a police officer is worth more than somebody else's life, or the police deserve some kind of special protection that we mere mortals do not.

    That quote of Stevens' is deepy disturbing. He's saying that, in line with his personal opinion, the Law should be changed because of this one case. Has he never heard the phrase 'emotional cases make bad law'? Are we to change the Law every time something nasty happens? Are all senior police officers this ignorant? ('No' is the answer to that last one, thankfully.)

    21 Nov 2005, 17:39

  2. I fail to understand how Stevens could have spent forty years in close proximity to all kinds of crimes, many of them horrific, yet suddenly change his mind due to this one case. Unless of course it's a last straw kind of situation, in which case I'm pretty glad that he's no longer in any position of much influence

    When I first saw his comments, I assumed he had memoirs out in the near future.

    21 Nov 2005, 18:16

  3. Lloyd Kaufman

    Check out almost any issue of private eye for plenty of dirt on how much of a mentalist stevens is

    21 Nov 2005, 19:54

  4. Am I the only one who feels that we're looking at the symptoms rather than the cause? Perhaps as a society we should be looking at WHY violent crimes are allowed to happen instead of focusing so much on the punishments.

    22 Nov 2005, 16:12

  5. Yes, I would agree wholeheartedly.

    But, as I'm sure has been mentioned before, the causes of these problems are somewhat more tricky to deal with than the punishments. Take the banning-scissors-in-schools thing. Surely we should be addressing the society we live in, that produces teenagers capable of such violence. But no – let's just ban a useful classroom implement and ignore the real issue!

    22 Nov 2005, 16:26

  6. Tricky, yes; impossible, no. But I suppose the question is, where do you start? People who end up committing crime can end up in that situation through many different routes, so how do you prioritise which problem to address first? Drugs, abusive parents, deprived backgrounds, truancy…the list is pretty long… Mind you, I think putting more money into the education system wouldn't go amiss. If you come from a supportive, comfortable background then even if the school's not that great you manage through (I speak from experience) but if you've got no encouragement from your parents (or whoever's at home) then having a good school with good teachers makes so much of a difference.

    22 Nov 2005, 16:45

  7. I don't even think the education system needs more money. It just needs a different direction. Billions has been spent in the last few decades equipping schools with computers, and yet the lessons I had so much of a problem teaching kids in were IT because trying to keep a classroom of children on-task when they're all opening online games as soon as you've turned your back is nigh-on impossible. What did they learn from those lessons that most of them didn't already know? Nothing. As Justin always says, bring back the blackboard and chalk!

    22 Nov 2005, 17:07

  8. Steve

    "Could it not be viewed as more terrible to take the life of a child? By choosing to work in the emergency services police officers must be accepting that they will put themselves in more danger than your average person during a day at the office. Not to say that taking a bullet is part of the job, but risk is, presumably, expected."

    Not to be too blunt, but applies exactly to the drunk-women being sexually assaulted scenario as well, so I think you might want to rethink that one. What I mean is that getting really drunk at a party puts you as a women at SIGNIFICANT risk for being abused, but I don't think that risk means that we shouldn't take it seriously, do you?

    Oh, and the reason we give higher punishments to cop-killers is not a morl one, is a societal functional one. So for the same reason we take threats against leader seriously, we understand that we need to extablish large disincentives to killing police officers a) because we need people to BE police officers and this probably helps a bit and b) because we understand that killing a cop is a crime against societies well-being above the actual murder.

    25 Nov 2005, 01:31

  9. I think you have misunderstood me, Steve. I would agree that the situations are similar – I would not get more then tipsy at a party unless I was with friends and knew I'd have a lift home. I agree that women should be aware of the risks and not put themselves into unnecessary danger. I do, however, object to the notion that women who dress to make themselves look attractive or who drink a little deserve or should expect to be attacked because they have somehow provoked it. The problems are, where do you place the responsibility for the decision to engage in a sexual act, and how do you come to a verdict on a case that essentially consists of one person's word against another's?

    I also don't think that the murder of police officers should be taken lightly. I am merely stating that there are certain risks that come with a job or a situation that should be accepted. It just seems that the reaction to this recent event seems slightly out of proportion bearing in mind that it's far from being the first time a police officer has been murdered. I do disagree that the murder of police officers and political leaders should be punished more severely than that of any other human being. It seems rather far-fetched to say that it would make a difference to someone considering joining the police force if you said to them that they were slightly less likely to get murdered because the punishment has been made more severe. By joining a risky profession they also must innately accept that there is a risk of injury.

    Are peope putting too much significance on the intention behind this crime. What I mean is that I'm sure the murderer didn't intend to murder a police officer: it was probably as far from premeditated as you can get. I'm sure that subverting the fabric of society had not even crossed their minds. I am coming round slightly to the idea that violence against those in the armed forces, if done with premeditated intent, could be viewed as a subversion of authority. However, what I really do object to is the idea that the life of someone serving in the armed forces is worth more. Is life sentence is enough of a deterrent to murder? Is the death penalty really going to deter any more people from murdering?

    In the case of the rape argument, I'm really not a raging feminist – I can see that in some, if not many, cases, women do not behave in a sensible manner, and that in some cases men are accused wrongly – I am just exploring all aspects of the discussion. As I have said many times before, the views I express here are not necessarily all my own. I mere enjoy the act of debate and want to explore a subject fully.

    25 Nov 2005, 10:20

  10. jamal

    A good post. Im all for brining back the death penalty in the UK.

    15 Jan 2006, 00:43

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