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On wishing other people suffering

I'm really disappointed in so many of the comments on the Jez mainpage article about the guy who abused and killed his infant daughter. It goes without saying that what this guy is (probably) guilty of is unspeakably barbaric. No question.

But I've noticed a trend on articles like that, where someone has committed a particularly heinous act. There's inevitably an influx of comments along the lines of "this guy deserves a slow and painful death," "I don't believe in capital punishment usually, but we should draw and quarter this dude," "I hope he gets raped and murdered in prison," and so on. Lots of deeply vengeful, eye-for-an-eye stuff.

It strikes me as strange.

I'm fundamentally morally opposed to the death penalty, and other forms of cruel and unusual punishment. I don't believe in vengeance. I don't believe that sexual assault in prisons is an evil that should be allowed to continue (or should be made light of or used as a threat or taunt) because we feel like prisoners deserve it. I believe that restorative justice works (even if not everyone will be reformed, I believe that it's our duty to treat people as though they have the capacity to be reformed), and I believe that it's the moral approach.


And it strikes me as kind of meaningless to profess to abhor the death penalty and then make exceptions every time there's a particularly brutal crime.

Perhaps I have a skewed sense of my peers, but I thought that most other social-justice-minded feminists would also be opposed to the death penalty, and to other forms of retributive justice. If not for moral reasons, then at least because of what the Innocence Project has taught us about the risk of executing innocent people.

I was listening to an episode of On Point the other day about jury selection (it's a timely topic with the trials for the Boston bombing and the Aurora shooting coming up), and it's really worth listening to. The piece that really stuck out to me was this: when we exclude people from the jury pool who say they would never enact the death penalty, juries skew more white, male, and wealthy than they otherwise would, and they are likelier to convict.


Perhaps many Jez commenters do actually agree that the death penalty is morally reprehensible, and they do agree that it's not acceptable to wish rape and physical suffering on those who have transgressed. Perhaps those comments are really an expression of shock, anger, disgust, outrage, even grief. But then what does that say about us? What does it say about our culture when the most readily accessible expression of those emotions is calling for violence? (And I'm talking about people who are not personally connected to the harm calling for violence, here—I understand the incredible anger that the people personally impacted by the harm would feel.)

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