I was driving today and was found pondering the bumper stickers of the driver in front of me. Folks in Southern California like to lay their opinions out on the lamb and so it is for the bumper stickers on this one car in particular. “OBAMA 08,” “Greenpeace,” and others complemented the rabble of predictably liberal bumper insignias. However there was one bright yellow bumper sticker with a very provocative statement on it which caught my eye.
“Justice,” read the bumper sticker “is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by a legalized murder.”
I would go on to discover that Coretta Scott King, wife of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had said that. At the time I read that statement though, I thought what a pompous thing for a bumper sticker to say (without proper accreditation). Then I got a little more cerebral about it and wondered exactly if that statement were in fact true. Is Justice truly not advanced when capital punishment is implemented? Are we regressive as a species for such actions?
To attack that question, we first need to establish what justice is. Taking all the politics out of it, I decided to consult with my friend Merriam Webster and here’s what their online edition had to say about “Justice.”
“1 a : the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments b : judge c : the administration of law; especially : the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity
2 a : the quality of being just, impartial, or fair b (1) : the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2) : conformity to this principle or ideal : righteousness c : the quality of conforming to law
3 : conformity to truth, fact, or reason : correctness”
Well 1c seems to agree with the belief about all things being equal. For a little bit of context to what true Justice is and how it can be implemented, I went back. Way back. Hammurabi. Many may know of him and his text of “laws” but may not be familiar with them. “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,” is the way many children are taught about Hammurabi in school. That’s basically what I found when reading his 252 laws; however there are nuances which deserve a look.
For example, the second law in his code reads “If any one bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.” Got that? That means, the RIVER has to prove that this guy is innocent or not. And then, if the river proves his innocence, then the accuser is guilty! And the accuser is put to death.
It all sounds a little too morbid. However one thing which people remember Hammurabi for at the time is 1) implementing these set of laws 2) keeping everyone safe and 3) expanding the empire of Babylon. Now, Babylon didn’t have everything right; obviously or they’d still be here. Still it begs the question; have we, in modern society gotten too lenient of criminals? I mean, even the judges in Hammurabi’s time were on the hot seat: “If a judge try a case, reach a decision, and present his judgment in writing; if later error shall appear in his decision, and it be through his own fault, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case, and he shall be publicly removed from the judge’s bench, and never again shall he sit there to render judgment.” So with all this litigation and extenuating circumstance and on and on and on, have we gotten to the point where everything is too harsh and only the most liberal treatment will do?
The arguments are pretty well there for no violence. Further punctuating the argument, Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Bobby Kennedy, was quoted as having said “I didn’t want the killer, in turn, to be killed. I remember lying in bed and praying, ‘Please, God. Please don’t take his life, too.’ I saw nothing that could be accomplished in the loss of one life being answered with the loss of another. And I knew, far too vividly, the anguish that would spread through another family-another set of parents, children, brothers, and sisters thrown into grief.”
It is impossible to know the loss of another; especially when it comes to senseless murder. However if we don’t set things in place that are going to discourage people from committing these violent acts, haven’t we just essentially stifled the justice system and left room in place for murders to do what they do without fear for their own lives? It’s a question which deserves continued study, examination, and discussion.