Death penalty: kills fewer innocent people than tsunamis by mattsteinglass
October 14, 2009, 3:57 am
Filed under: Crime

Everybody (or at least Publius and Megan McArdle and a million or so other crazy hippies) is all up in arms about how Texas Governor Rick Perry has abruptly fired half the members of a review panel that was just about to examine whether or not Todd Willingham, who Texas executed in 2004, was actually innocent. And it appears increasingly likely that anyone who recognizes that the Grateful Dead symbol is not actually a Satanic cult call sign will find that he was.

Well, okay — say the guy was innocent, and Texas put an innocent guy to death this one time. And let’s even grant that it’s not the only case. In fact, imagine for the sake of argument that 50 percent of the people Texas puts to death were innocent. Texas executed 423 people between 1982 and 2008, so let’s call it 212 innocent people killed by the state. Now, look at all the time, effort and money being spent on trying to get Texas to reform or eliminate its death penalty practices. It must be millions of dollars, not to mention all the media attention. If all that money were being devoted to ending malaria in Africa, isn’t it obvious that it would save thousands and thousands of innocent lives?

Clearly Texas Governor Rick Perry is right that this use of resources is wasteful and that there are better ways for public officials to be spending taxpayer money right now than re-examining whether or not Todd Willingham actually committed murder, or whether he was just a poor guy who first went through the horrible tragedy of having his three beloved daughters die in a fire and then had his name smeared and was killed by the government for no damn reason at all. And I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that Rick Perry’s name is the one on the execution order.


5 Comments so far
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What a bizarre argument — justice can be measured by comparison with random, natural disasters? This has to be one of the strangest non sequiturs I have ever seen. Personally, I am in favor of the death penalty, but the state must be held to a very high level of certainty and fairness that seems to be questionable in Texas.

Frankly, if killing one innocent man is no big deal since thousands of people die in natural disasters, why does anyone care about abortion? After all, millions of people die every day of old age so abortions are just a miniscule fraction of that, right?

See how ridiculous this strange comparison can get?

If you want to argue that the death of a few innocents is an acceptable trade off versus the cost of administering the death penalty then go right ahead, but dismissing questions of justice by a bizarre comparison with unrelated, random events is just drivel.

Comment by koowan

koowan, sorry if the sarcasm wasn’t thick enough. Obviously I think this is a ludicrous argument. The point was really directed at arguments by people like Bjorn Lomborg who are constantly saying that we shouldn’t make an effort to reduce global greenhouse emissions because…the money would be better spent fighting malaria in Africa. There’s this generally pernicious style of argument going around in which one argues against some reform proposal directed at a discrete and solvable problem by saying the money or effort would be better devoted to something else. And yet the people who make such rarely actually propose doing anything about those other problems. Anyway, kind of far-fetched snark I suppose.

Comment by Matt Steinglass

after re-reading it to try and follow the argument, it became clear to me that it was sarcasm, but it wasn’t immediately obvious. in fact the main thing that gives it away is your description of willingham in the last paragraph. usually people who are dismissive of an individual’s undeserved death don’t write anything humanizing the person.

maybe i am desensitized to sarcasm by reading too many wingnuts who make such misguided arguments in all earnest.

Comment by piranha

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[…] tried to put the outrage over the execution of apparently innocent Texan Cameron Todd Willingham in perspective. Well, okay — say the guy was innocent, and Texas put an innocent guy to death this one time. And […]

Pingback by What price life? Certainty of death, or the problem that will bankrupt our world – Kevin Burke

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