Lovely subject for a Valentine's Day - you act as if capital punishment were a matter of life-and-death or something....
Subject: Feb 16 THIS MODERN WORLD (Death Penalty)
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2000 18:58:54 -0700
This is a comment about a recent THIS MODERN WORLDcartoon of yours in Liberal Opinion Weekly. In arguing against the death penalty, you write, "...and no matter how many death row convicts are, in fact, guilty of terrible crimes, one thing is simply not debatable: if our society has ever executed a single innocent person---- then we are all accessories to murder."
In fact, more than "debatable," your argument can be shown to be both technically and substantively incorrect.
First, technically. Your terminology is confused. Check most dictionaries. Murder refers to an UNLAWFUL homicide which a state-sanctioned judicial execution, carried out in accordance with the law, is, by definition, not. At the end of this letter, I have included the legal definition, as well as common dictionary definition of "murder," which you may find interesting.
Second, substantively. Legal execution for murder does not set out to kill innocent human beings. Rather, it sets out to kill those guilty of capital crimes. If an innocent is inadvertantly executed, it is not murder; it is an accident. In brief, agents of the state accidentally kill an innocent while lawfully attempting to kill the guilty. Morally, I argue that the situation is identical to a policeman shooting at a gunman who may, for example, be shooting at him (a lawful killing by most standards), and accidentally hitting someone other than the sniper. It is a tragic event... but not a murder. The analogy goes further: even though we could prevent tragic accidental shootings of innocents by police by simply never allowing police to use their guns, we allow police to shoot both to defend themselves and even to stop those deemed a hazard to others. The risk is accepted to achieve the social goal.
So it is with executions. We accept the risk of an inadvertant execution of an innocent to achieve a variety of social purposes. These include:
o Justice - any lesser penalty for some crimes-- e.g., mere lifetime incarceration-- would be so vast an underpunishment as to constitute a dramatic miscarriage of justice. Given the number of murderers convicted in our society, that's a LOT of injustice.
o Deterrence of the murderer - Note that, say, William Ted Bundy has not murdered anyone since he was executed. In fact, the statistics seem to support that contention that if one decides NOT to execute a murderer, the chances that the perpetrator will somehow manage to murder someone else is considerably greater than the chance that an innocent is inadvertantly being executed. While murder after release is a continuing problem, even life without parole doesn't solve the problem. Prisoners can escape, but the far larger problem is in-prison murders-- of visitors, staff, guards, and, mostly, other inmates. There are hundreds every year: we can no more maintain divinely perfect security in prisons than we can maintain divine perfection in identifying the guilty. I would argue that as long as we are less likely to execute an innocent than to have a future murder by the unexecuted accused, even leaving all issues of justice/injustice aside, we are better off (from a public safety standpoint) with a system of capital punishment operating.
o Deterrence of others. "Deterrence" has been given a bad rap. Because it hasn't been "proven" death penalty opponents incorrectly argue that it's been proven not to work. Nonsense. Very little ever gets "proven" in the social sciences. It's too difficult to establish control groups and isolate all the causative factors. The death penalty poses the additional problem that the numbers are so small. The number of homicides varies so much from year to year, and place to place, due to nothing more than normal statistical variation, that it's almost impossible to sort out any "deterrent" effect from statistical "noise," much less all the other relevant factors. About all that the statistics truly support is that whatever deterrent the death penalty may have is not sufficiently enormous to stand out against the near-total masking of normal statistical variation and other uncontrollable environmental factors. In brief, if one wants to believe in deterrence-- or to not believe in it-- the statistics are not sufficiently well developed to contradict you.
As you have probably picked up if you have read this far, I do support the death penalty. I also, however, support "reforms" which allow those who have a legitimate case to make for their innocence plenty of leeway to do so... simply not unlimited leeway.
One last thing... though I don't always agree with you, I LOVE your cartoons, both in the paper and in the book collection I also own. You are one of the VERY few cartoonists I know with a halfway decent shot at being this generation's Thomas Nast (one of MY heroes).
The following is taken from: Kling, S.G., "The Legal Encyclopedia and Dictionary," Pocket Books, New York, 1970. Note that Kling uses the masculine pronoun to mean either sex, so "he" should be taken as "he or she", "him" as "him or her," etc.
MURDER. The unlawful killing of one person by another with malice aforethought, either express or implied. To be guilty of murder one must be possessed of a sound mind, that is, there must be will and legal discretion. The killing need not be by direct violence. Setting poison for another, resulting in his death, is murder. It is sufficient if the act done apparently endangers life and eventually proves fatal. And there must be malice aforethought, which especially distinguishes murder from other forms of homicide.
Murder is usually divided into two degrees. All murder which is perpetuated by means of poison or by lying in wait or by any other kind of wilful, deliberate, and premeditated killing or which is committed in the perpetuation of or attempt to perpetuate any arson, rape, robbery, or burglary, is murder in the first degree. All other kinds of murder are murders in the second degree.
Other helpful definitions from the same source:
MALICE AFORETHOUGHT OR MALICE PREPENSE. Malice previously and deliberately emtertained. This is an essential in constituting the crime of murder.
MALICE. Doing a wrongful act intentionally, without just cause or excuse is all that is necessary to constitute malice. Malice is necessary to the commission of some criminal offenses. Malevolence and unkindness of heart and enmity towards an individual are not essential. It is rather the intent from which flows any unlawful and injurious act committed without legal justification.
If one sets poison for another and a third party takes it and dies, there will be by legal construction a murder of the third person with malice aforethought. Malice is implied frequently from the facts proven or the act committed. It is implied in every case of intentional homicide and, the killing being proven, it devolves upon the defendant to show circumstances to overcome this implication, such as excusable accident, justification and the like.
Lest you think I have resorted to technical legalisms, I have checked a lot of dictionaries, and they invariably have as the leading definitions the UNLAWFUL killing of a human being. For example (only because it's nearest at hand), this is the complete definition (less phonetic pronunciation stuff which ASCII text can't reproduce anyway, and miscellany at the end tracing the derivation of the word and other words sharing the same root) of murder, from "The American Heritage College Dictionary", Third Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston & New York, 1993:
Murder n. 1. The unlawful killing of one human being by another, esp. when premeditated, 2. Slang. Something that is very uncomfortable, difficult, or hazardous. -v. -dered, -dering, -ders. -tr. 1. To kill (another human being) unlawfully. 2. To kill brutally or inhumanely. 3. To put an end to; destroy. 4. To spoil by ineptness; mutilate. 5. Slang. To defeat decisively; trounce. -intr. To commit murder. --Idioms. _get away with murder_. Informal. To escape punishment for or detection of an egregiously blameworthy act. _murder will out_. Secrets or misdeeds will eventually be disclosed.
This should be very clear. Thus, you might describe the Pirates beating the Braves as "murder" as well, but while it might be dismissed as simple hyperbole when used by a sportscaster, in a treatment of the death penalty, that sort of sloppiness is not only technically unsound but misleading as well.
Subject: "Extreme" style is A-OK
Date: Mon, 20 Mar 2000 16:27:33 -0500 Dear Tom/Dan,
Originally I was going to ask you 1) what you thought of Ralph Nader's recent entry into the Presidential arena (yes, I voted for him in '96) and 2) will Sparky be running for President again?
But I was browsing your site yet again, and I read a lot of the responses to your Valentine's Day Death Penalty cartoon. One reader complained, in part, "The problem is that your style of ridiculing death penalty proponents takes a great deal away from the serious issue. The antagonistic stance that your cartoon takes reminds me of extremist movements...."
I'd like to respond that I love that exact style.
Maybe it is extreme, but it reminds me of a few thousand REAL people who attended a small, well-heeled liberal arts college with me in the early and mid eighties...when Reagen was everyone's wet dream of the ideal President. I explained to some fellow students that "Star Wars" was a fiscally irresponsible pipe dream, as was cutting taxes and increasing the military buget. They began to get hostile. If you really wanted to set them off, you could tell them we had no business supporting the Contras and death squads in El Salvador. The responses I got from most people were ugly, and expressions and "tone" of the people in the 3rd panel ("You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs...") convey the spirit of my fellow "educated" students/citizens exactly.
I have the feeling you've had similarly disgusting and sad encounters. It gives me great happiness to read your work and to know that it's available all over the country. It's so excellent that I wish 5 strips came out each day. Thanks for the continued excellence,
I just read your Feb. 14th strip, and I have to say I'm a bit disillusioned with your "we're all accessories to murder" scare tactic -- how pathetically....conservative. To make up for this annoying hypocrisy, I demand nothing less than a self-deprecating reference to the 02/14/00 strip in a future episode.
Subject: Monday, Feb. 14 cartoon
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000 01:57:01 -0500
Dear Tom Tomorrow,
I love your cartoons! And the one today was a good one. But I have to disagree with your assessment of the death penalty -- "If even one innocent person has been executed, then we are all accessories to murder."
I don't think that's necessarily true. If one innocent person has been put into jail, are we all accessories to kidnapping and unlawful restraint? If one innocent person is sentenced to community service, are we all accessories to forced labor?
I don't think that the fact that our death penalty system is imperfect (ie, innocent people sentenced) means that the system is worthless. If an innocent person is sentenced to a prison term and dies during the course of it, does that mean that we can't sentence people to prison terms? I think that the application of the death penalty in the American justice system has a lot of problems (ie, racial bias), but the death penalty itself is not the evil that your cartoon presents it to be.
My apologies if I have misunderstood any of your cartoon's message!
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000 22:34:25 -0000
Hey Tom, (or Dan)
Just a quick note to let you know that I think you are the funniest and most insightful political cartoonist today. Period.
But I do have one point I want to make. In the past, I've seen you criticize the right of private citizens to own guns. Yet in this weeks column, you wisely point out that our government, and its leaders are human, therefore fallable.
I guess my question is this: Given that you, I, and our fellow progressives are the first to speak out against government abuses and excesses (like the death penalty) why is it then that the same progressives feel that only our government (and its agents, the police and military) should be the only ones to have weapons?
Dan, I'm a longtime enviromentalist, a firm believer in the free access to elective abortion, a supporter of drug legalization and general libertarian when it comes to consensual behavior between adults. Believe me, I have nothing to do with those militia groups, (which are very xenophobic, racist, sexist, ect.)
But unless the government gives up their weapons, don't expect me to give up mine.
And keep up the great work. Even though I disagree with your support for gun control, I still think you are the most right-on political cartoonist today.
A loyal reader,
Subject: Death penalty
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 16:06:29 -0500
Your recent cartoon on capital punishment made a good point ? that executing even one innocent man or woman is too many. The problem is that your style of ridiculing death penalty proponents takes a great deal away from the serious issue. The antagonistic stance that your cartoon takes reminds me of extremist movements & the language and tactics they employ (ACT UP! throwing A.I.D.S.-tainted blood on people; environmentalists spiking trees, endangering the lives of loggers; anti-abortion activists shoving fetuses in peopleís faces, etc.).
There is no doubt that the system needs a radical overhaul ? even those who support it in theory, like me, accept that, but it fixing it isn't the same thing as "throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
I don't agree with the politics of most of your cartoons, but I thoroughly enjoy them. Is it possible to have them emailed to me directly, instead of having to go to salon.com?
Subject: Legal execution.
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2000 12:27:15 -0800
You make a good point regarding the execution of innocent people.
I have struggled with this issue for a long time.
I tend to lean towards the pro-execution side.
I think the execution of the truly innocent is a rare occurrence and many lives have been saved by the execution of people who could have gotten released at some point and killed other people. It seems like kind of a wash to me.
On the other hand, I've tried to put myself in the place of an innocent person facing execution. How might I feel? Surely the word injustice doesn't begin to describe things.....
However, if my choices are execution or the rest of my life in a hell hole I think I would just as soon give up the ghost. It's been pointed out that many innocent people have possibly been executed but then again how many innocent people have spent their lives in prison?
Why are these issues never easy?
Subject: Death penalty
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2000 06:40:52 -0800 (PST)
I have been a reader of your weekly (Detroit Metro Times first, now Salon)and have always been able to glean some bit of knowledge that I maybe wasn't aware of. I have come to look forward to your strip as a sort of weekly *wake up* to all the BS that gets slung by our various political leaders. I enjoy your strip because it's funny, incisive, and most of all it makes me think. Believe me, that's not always as easy as I'd like it to be.
I was a staunch supporter of capital punishment, but as I got older I found myself questioning that support. I guess even an ex-punk like me can become more compassionate as my own mortality gets closer. Your "death penalty" strip was the camel that broke the straws back, as it were. If even one innocent person dies, you said, it would make us all accessories to murder. That one statement was enough. It just made sense. 81 people have won bck their freedom from death row so far. Who's to say that it's not possible?
Then I read a news piece on a six year old child killed by a car jacker. The child was trapped outside the car, tangled in the seat belt at speeds of up to 80 mph, for 5 miles. The piece is on CNN. It is seriously shaking my new found resolve. Just as your one line was able to make me reconsider my stance, a single quote from the mother of the child has outraged and horrified me enough to go back.
"It was just frantic," she said. "He was just reaching his arms out, and I was just trying to get him. He was just crying big tears."
The crime and the disgusting way that this child was killed is not even the worst thing I've ever heard of (unfortunately). On a grand scale the Nazi's, Stalin and our own government have done far worse. But what justification is there for letting a person like this live? I am, of course, assuming that the multiple witnesses to the crime weren't lying and the police have the right man.
Anyway, without getting too involved, I'd just like to hear your opinion, if you have the time.
Subject: Death Penalty
Date: Sun, 27 Feb 2000 10:11:21 -0800 (PST)
So what you seem to be saying is, "A jury has found you guilty of murder, but just in case you are actually innocent, we're going to put you in jail for the rest of your life!"
Wouldn't everybody sleep better then if we just didn't convict anyone, I mean that way we KNOW no innocent people are being subjected to prisons. That way we can all just sit around in our utopia listening to music and everyone will be too busy relating to each other to commit crimes. (sorry if that last part was a little sarcastic).
Seriously though, I would like to hear what we should do with people who have no desire to be a productive part of society, I don't think education is the answer, how are you going to educate someone who robs liquor stores for a living and every now and then kills someone in the process?
"You shouldn't be doing that!"
They know, that's why they're carrying the sawed off shotgun and wearing a ski mask, so they don't get caught.
Again, I'm sorry for the caustic tone of this letter, I'm just frustrated with our crime rate being so high because people in this country tolerate crime like it's the price of living here. Your piece suggested that what we are doing is wrong but didn't imply a better solution. I've traveled all over the world including the middle-east where crime is almost unheard of because criminals are dealt with immediately. I'm not saying they have all the answers, but they are certainly doing better than us.
Anyway , I guess this was just a vent, and I respect the fact that you have your views and stick to them.