Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Texas considering the death penalty for child molesters

It seems that Texas, not happy with being the number one state in the country in executions is the latest state to propose the death penalty for some child molesters.

Now, I blogged last year on why the death penalty for child molesters was both a bad idea and a sterling example of political cowardice (which is linked here). In part, I wrote:

What could be more pleasing and more just, than to execute child molesters, right? Well, no actually. I know, it's tough to make any argument against doing something to a child molester, but I will make it here.

Begin with the gut reaction. Yes, what child molesters have done is horrible. And we have to protect our children ahead of any other consideration (one reason I recently added the Code Amber Alert ticker at the top of my screen). But is executing them the answer? It is true, after all, that child molesters are that way by nature, and that they can't be truly 'cured,' even if they want to be (there is ample scientific as well as criminal evidence to back that up.) However, let me make some points why executing them is not the answer.

Start with a bald fact that I have to state anyway and which overshadows the rest of the discussion: It won't hold up in court. That is pretty much conceded by nearly all legal scholars. No one has been executed for a crime other than murder in the U.S. since the Rosenbergs were executed for a 1950 conviction for treason, for giving nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. No one has been executed for a sex crime in the U.S. since the early part of the last century (and then child molestation wasn't even an issue, and the people executed were invariably black men convicted rightly or wrongly or raping white women.) So the courts will virtually certainly strike this down as 'cruel and unusual punishment' not proportional to the crime, and what is really infuriating is that the politicians know it better than anyone, but they are doing this to be popular...

But more to the point here is that it is exactly the kind of 'red meat politics' that has gotten us into the mess we are in today.

I used to live in Texas (only for a year, but it was an educational year, with 'Shrub' running for re-election as governor in a state that seemed to have lost its collective mind. A prime example was the race for railroad commissioner that year. One of the candidates (who ultimately won the race), instead of commenting on anything that had to do with being railroad commissioner ran ads touting his support for the death penalty. Now, it's hard to see what the railroad commissioner would have to do with the death penalty anyway, unless maybe they were considering using 'tying to the tracks ahead of the train' as a method of execution (think Snidely Whiplash) but no matter, apparently it doesn't matter if you get an unqualified lunk in the office, as long as he is pro-death penalty.

And that's the way the death penalty is in Texas. It's a little like when the Dallas Cowboys win on Sunday. People may be falling behind in their bills, have a leak in the roof and Little Johnny may be getting F's on his report card, but if the Cowboys win on Sunday then it seems like everyone in Texas feels much better on Monday. True that the bills still have to be paid, the leak still has to be fixed and Johnny still has to get caught up in school, but people think that because the Cowboys have won, their life is better somehow. The same thing with the death penalty. Never mind that everyone on death row is safely behind bars and away from the general population, or that the murder rate in Texas (6.2 per 100,000 population in 2005) is higher than the national average or for that matter than any of the twelve states that have no death penalty, nor does it matter that the man executed may not even have been guilty, nor the fact that if everyone on death row were executed tomorrow the prison population would catch up to what it is now within two weeks, the fact that some miscreant has been sent to the next life makes people feel better the next day. They still can't pay their bills, the roof still leaks, Johnny is still failing, but doggone it, we sure showed that loser a thing or two.

What is worse though is the cynical politicians who demagogue this issue (and the death penalty for child molesters, though it will be thrown out in court, is a demagogue's dream-- and when the courts throw it out then they can demagogue some more about 'liberal judges' or some such tripe and still avoid having to tackle anything that matters) because they'd rather pass this kind of bill and then bash the courts than deal with the really hard issues (and in Texas, there are a lot of them that need dealt with).

It does make the rise of Shrub a little easier to understand though.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How do you know that it won't stand up in court? It hasn't been tried.