Tropico Perspective: How many mistakes can we live with?

October 09, 2011|By Michael Teahan

There is a compelling theory of memory that if you want to remember something for a while, you must be reminded of it right about the time your mind is about to forget it.

Considering this nation’s news cycles and short attention span, now is about the time we may be forgetting that we very likely executed a man for a crime he didn’t commit in Georgia and came just days away from executing Duane Buck in Texas because he is African American.

Literally, that was the rational given at trial to convince a jury that capital punishment was necessary. And we might still do it.


I use the pronoun “we” because all executions are carried out on our behalf. We are responsible, whether we get it right or not.

America is bloodthirsty. Not “shoot the criminal and make the family pay for the bullet” (China), and not “stone them in the public square” (Saudi Arabia), but certainly the brand that gives a shout out to Gov. Rick Perry for setting execution records in Texas.

For some perspective, I would not hesitate to pull the switch on anyone who hurt my wife or kids, but our society isn’t set up that way. The affront that is redress in prosecuting crime is brought on behalf of the community.

Punishment is supposed to be sober and thoughtful. It’s not supposed to be a Chuck Norris movie.

And when we pause to consider that sometimes we do execute innocent people, we should take a serious look at just what we get out of killing bad guys — and what price should be paid when we mistakenly kill a good one.

This is not a new debate. I was debating the death penalty more than 30 years ago in high school and the arguments haven’t changed, just the Supreme Court decisions.

The death penalty has never been a deterrent to capital crime. If it were, Texas, Georgia and Florida would be the most peaceful places on Earth. It is the premeditation paradox: In order to qualify for most cases of capital murder, you have to plan the crime that resulted in loss of life. The problem is that when you plan a crime like that, one of the key parts of the plan is the “not getting caught” part.

There is no deterrent effect when you plan on getting away with it.

Crimes of passion don’t qualify as capital crimes (unless you are black and live in Texas), so the likelihood that jealous husbands and contract killers will keep on doing what they do is still pretty good.

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