Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Situational Ethics

Today is Maryland Death Penalty Day in the Washington Post as they thoughtfully highlight the religious backdrop of opposition to the Death Penalty and how it plays with legislators. Apparently, this is an instance where it’s OK to vote your religious teachings because the killing of unborn children is not on the table:

“But as a devout Catholic, [Sen. Alex Mooney ] is also guided by his religious beliefs.

“"I am conflicted," said Mooney, a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee, which is scheduled to hear testimony on the bill today. "I try to look at it from a moral and philosophical point of view. Is it right to use the death penalty when there is another option, life in jail?” Death Penalty Debate Has Legislators Looking Inward

Elsewhere, our Governor weighs in on this issue. I kind of hope that non-Maryland-based readers of the Washington Post skip over his thoughts on this issue because..well, read for yourself:

“But what about the deterrent value of the death penalty? Does the use of the death penalty -- while rarely, if ever, "just" -- save more innocent lives than it takes? The evidence indicates that it does not.

…And while the murder rate has gone down across the board since 1990, it declined by 56 percent in states without the death penalty but only 38 percent in states that have it. It would appear that the death penalty is not a deterrent, but possibly an accelerant, to murder.”
Martin O'Malley - Why I Oppose the Death Penalty -

That’s almost too mind-boggling to take in at one sitting. Is that really my Governor’s thinking?

Arrested Suspect: “Well I originally had no intention of killing the guy but then I remembered that this was a Death Penalty state and figured ‘ah, what the hell, why not?’ and wasted him.”

I’m ambivalent about the Death Penalty. Like, I suspect, most people, there are instances of such absolute evil (like the John Thanos case the Governor mentions) that a resulting application of the Death Penalty doesn’t seem worth any anxiety. But the State killing anyone is still reason for pause so LEGISLATIVELY eliminating the Death Penalty won’t get much out of me.

What does irk me though is the selective application of statistics such as was done by our Governor so INARTICULATELY (it’s OK – he’s white). For many, deterrence is not even a prime reason for having the Penalty. Instead, the Death Penalty just seems an appropriate punishment for certain crimes against society. The Governor obviously disagrees and apparently he does so on moral grounds:

“And absent a deterrent value, the damage done to the concept of human dignity by our conscious communal use of the death penalty is greater than the benefit of even a justly drawn retribution.”

All fair enough but this is the language that many are using in voicing their opposition to abortion; that it damages our concept of human dignity. You don’t have to agree with them but it’d be nice if the moral underpinnings of such arguments got a small fraction of the respect such arguments get when made on behalf of convicted killers. In fact, it’d be nice if ethical concerns that run counter to liberal group think would always be at least treated with respect.
Because what I perceive here is the equating of the “liberal” position as synonymous with the “ethical” position. An ethical position that runs counter to liberal group think becomes, instead, the “conservative” position:

More from the Post on Sen. Mooney:

“Usually a reliable conservative vote -- he opposed expansion of the state's hate crimes definition to protect gays and lesbians two years ago and the stem cell research bill last year …”

He opposed the hate crime bill because he didn’t think some groups deserved more protection than others. Had instead the legislation targeted actions against Catholics, he still would have opposed it. (For the record, I instinctively oppose so-called hate crime legislation; believing that if an action is already a crime, that’s probably enough to get a meaningful conviction.) Remarkably, he is now proposing that the Homeless be similarly “protected” by such legislation but some on the left are opposed because they think he is just trying to water down the provisions focused on sexual orientation.

As to stem cell research, his opposition is to EMBRYONIC stem cell research which he considers human in nature. Why not also describe that as part of his “inward” search?

…and can someone explain to me why providing additional criminal sanctions will “protect gays and lesbians” but the Death Penalty can be “possibly an accelerant, to murder.”?

Side Note: the Governor also writes: “Human dignity is the concept that leads brave individuals to sacrifice their lives for the lives of strangers.”

Methinks he’s referring to himself and his courageous stand from just about a year ago:

We want to turn over the Port of Baltimore, the home of the 'Star Spangled Banner,' to the United Arab Emirates? Not so long as I'm mayor and not so long as I have breath in my body” Martin "Nathan Hale" O'Malley

Great post. Please consider submitting this to the Carnival of Maryland.
I wonder if it's occurred to our governor that the murder rate hasn't exactly declined in the city where he was mayor, and in which the state's attorney adamantly refused to bring death cases. In fact, the crime rate is so bad in Baltimore (and Maryland generally) that the governor has no basis for making these portentous pronouncements about crime.

Thanks for dealing with this dreck, so I don't feel obligated to.
Speaking from what I know about Baltimore City, it is virtually impossible to get the death penalty in the city. Apparently you can cap, stab, and otherwise maim innocents in town with complete abandon - thereby stripping them of human dignity - but can expect to have your own protected by our wonderful stooge turned governor.

The most disgusting thing: If O'M were so hell bent on protection of human dignity, why did his lackluster efforts in poverty and homelessness do nothing to preserve the dignity of the less fortunate in the 'great' city he ran (into the ground) for so many years?

Get used to four more years of this crap - democracy is a beautiful thing, yes?
It's funny to make such a big issue out of a process that had 3 people executed over the past four years when hundreds are getting killed needlessly each year in Baltimore City.

But hey, it's what the Washington Post wants and O'Malley can endear himself to the paper by sounding high minded.

I heard (I think it was) Stephen Bailey who unfortunately was frustrated in his attempt to become State's Attorney for Baltimore County argue that the death penalty actually helps resolve some cases. He said that the disposition of the case against the suspects in the murder of William Bassett resulted from the threat of the death penalty hanging over their heads.
And I believe that Vernon Evans deserves the death penalty. If he really needed to kill someone he should have moved four blocks to the east and he would have been in the city.
thanks all - I remain amazed that Governor O'Malley would even want to tempt others to play with murder stats after he just finished up a tour in Baltimore...
If I remember I have to link to Greg Kanes column from earlier this week at the trial of the man accused of killing his cousin. He doesn't specifically say that he wishes there was a death penalty option, but you might be able to read it into the column.
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