An Eye for an Eye: The Death Penalty
The world we live in is a beautiful place. It is filled with natural beauty, with admirable people, and kindness. But amidst the good, there is still corruption. I believe the worst kind of evil is the kind that takes advantage of the purest good, the most innocent spirits. There are some who deserve what they get, whether karma or God catches up with them, but there are others who do not. How far are we willing to go for justice? Life is the most precious currency we have. Thus, it should be protected, but at what cost?
Last summer, I went on a mission trip to New York City. We mainly worked with the homeless, but the knowledge gained there was not what most impacted myself or the others on the trip. An eight-year-old boy from Brooklyn, Leiby Kletzky, altered our views. He changed our mindsets. The simplest kind of purity, innocence, naïveté, that only a child could have, is what convinced me of the justice of the death penalty.
Leiby Kletzky was a Hasidic Jew, which is an extreme Orthodox Jewish branch. As a very simplistic faith, the boy grew up in a sheltered, loving community. One day, Leiby’s mother decided to let her smart, trustworthy, “grown up” little boy get home by himself. She would meet him at the street corner near home but he would navigate the seven blocks from school for the first time completely by himself. It was un-routine, and surely thrilling for the boy.
Along the way, Leiby Kletzky missed a turn. It was all bewildering, and unsettling, and much easier holding on to his mother’s hand. So he approached a stranger, politely asking for directions. Leiby saw the good, the innocence, the purity, in the man, and gave him his trust. Sure, a ride home would be wonderful. Leiby did not know better. The best in people. Isn’t that what children always believe? Leiby never met his mother on that street corner. His abduction bonded the city of New York together, as everyone kept a hopeful eye out for the boy. Leiby Kletzky’s face was plastered on every street corner, on every window, and on every news station.
Two days later, police entered the home of thirty-five year old Levi Aron, after spotting the man with Leiby on a surveillance camera. Aron motioned the police towards the kitchen, where blood was caked on the refrigerator doors. Inside the freezer, Leiby’s severed feet were in plastic bags, and as well as a bloodied chopping board with three knives. The rest of Leiby’s severed, mutilated body was found in a red suitcase in a dumpster a few blocks away. Aron never sexually abused the boy; all he had done is tie him up and keep him in a closet. When he saw that the entire city was searching, hoping, to rescue the boy, he got frantic, smothered the boy with a pillow, then brutally chopped up the boy, and tried to dispose of the remains. All of this, just because Leiby Kletzky asked a man for directions home. (USA Today)
Someone so pure, who knew not the evils of the world, was manipulated. A young boy who simply needed directions will never experience the fullness of life. Examples of extreme cruelty and inhumanity are what makes me believe that some people do not deserve a second chance; they deserve the death penalty. I know there are flaws in such an extreme belief. People deserve a second chance. While Levi Aron sits in a prison cell for the rest of his life, he can find God. He can bask in his grief, remorse, and guilt. He can die, however many years later, as a changed man, one who sees the good and appreciates it. Maybe one day, he will go to heaven and see young Levi and be at peace. A second chance for an unforgivable crime. That’s what everyone, even the worst of humanity, deserves, right?
When you wake up one morning and decide to prey upon the childlike faith of a young boy, you lose that right. When every day a mother mourns for a young child and chastises herself for believing in a simple walk home, you deserve the death penalty. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. A Ziploc bag of butchered feet for what? A second chance, because no one deserves death? The one who truthfully does not deserve death is a young Hasidic boy, who was too naïve to recognize the worst.
One of the biggest arguments against the death penalty is the ethical issue. Is it right for our government to kill? Consider this. Is it right for a police officer to shoot a murderer caught running from the scene? Aren’t they justified and applauded when they kill the serial murder or even just a one-time killer? If that is acceptable, isn’t it also justified for our government to kill convicted offenders? Our society does have the authority to execute, as long as it is warranted. Another perspective is the value of the loss of life. Casey Carmical points out in “The Death Penalty: Morally Defensible?” that if the cost of the stealing a life is imprisonment, then what is the difference of a stealing a material good, which also merits an imprisonment sentence? The punishment for heinous murder must be more severe than seemingly trivial charges like theft (Carmical 1-2).
Another common claim against the death penalty is whether or not it is constitutional. This claim is actually what led New York to remove the death penalty on June 24, 2004, through People v. Stephen LaValle (DPIC). However, the authors of the Constitution made it clear that capital punishment was just. The Fifth Amendment declares that any citizen should be held accountable for an offense like murder, but abolitionists, those who are anti-death penalty, contend that the Eighth Amendment counteracts it. The Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments”; however, capital punishment does not fit that description. The Supreme Court case Gregg v. Georgia avows that the Eighth Amendment was to ensure that murderers were not tortured, but executed in a humane way (Carmical 3-4). The five methods of execution practiced in the U.S. are lethal injection, electrocution, lethal gas, hanging, and the firing squad, while the most commonly practiced are lethal injection and electrocution by the electric chair. Both methods are quick; lethal injection is only a “shot” to the victim; and the electric chair knocks the victim unconscious in at least eight seconds. Compared to the potential hours of cruelty and pain their victims encountered, the methods the offender faces are minimal (Carmical 2).
The death penalty is a harsh sentence. It obviously should not be given for the lightest of crimes. Since New York abolished the death penalty, Levi Aron now faces life imprisonment. However, before the change, Aron would likely face the death penalty since his murder was “especially heinous, atrocious, cruel, or depraved (involved torture),” and involved kidnapping (DPIC). If New York were not one of the sixteen non-death penalty states, Levi Aron would be executed by lethal injection. It would set an example and serve as a warning to future predators. In a study by Professors Adler and Summers over the years 1979-2004, they examined the relationship between the number of executions and murder rates. They discovered that after each execution of an offender, there were up to seventy-four fewer murders that next year. Seventy-four is a large number. That is seventy-four safe boys, seventy-four happy mothers, and seventy-four safe communities (Watkins). The death penalty is effective and relevant for our community’s well being.
A common saying is that a bad deed should not go unpunished, and that is exactly what the death penalty can serve as. The moral justifications are valid and evidence clearly points to its role in deterring future murders, so the death penalty is both effective and ethical. More states should adopt the death penalty, and extreme criminal activity would diminish. Maybe grown men would not murder young boys on a whim. Maybe, directions and walks home could become safe. Maybe, the best in people would prevail. Yes, the death penalty is seemingly merciless, but so is storing a boy’s toes in your freezer.