Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Slaughter of the innocents: us, them and deterrents


So runs today's Daily Express headline. At least the first part.

Let me start by offering my condolences to the family and friends of WPCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes. Although I refer to their deaths in this article, it is only on the pretext of discussing the death penalty.


Killed by Dale Cregan in what appears to have been pre-planned attack, discussion has now turned to bringing back the death penalty, presumably for pre-meditated murders, after WPC Bone's father said:

"Bring back hanging. Let policemen shoot people on sight. I am so completely shocked"...
Understandable though such calls are in the immediate emotional aftermath of such a trauma - "he is completely shocked" - headlines, such as that above, are an emotional response on a national level. 

In the video above, NATO express regret after killing Afghan civilians in an air strike just a couple of days ago. So where are the "slaughter of the innocents headlines" in this case? Is it that the lives (and deaths) of non-British, non-white citizens mean less? 


Jean Charles de Menezes.


Mark Duggan


Policeman shooting people on sight is also a "slaughter of the innocents". Nobody called for the death penalty after either of these tragedies. Why?


The state enjoys a monopoly of violence, supposedly legitimised by its creation of laws and by its management of it through institutions and personnel. As a result, it can choose how to administer justice. 


Neither of the officers who shot de Menezes and Duggan have been identified; they have not faced justice because they were acting on behalf of the state. Even that bastion of moral turpitude, The Mail on Sunday, found it difficult to believe that only 2 police marksman had been named in the deaths of 33 members of the public that the police had shot.  



Shrine to Jean Charles de Menezes, Stockwell tube station (c) Caroline Ford
If the state effectively has ultimate power to absolve their personnel of committing crimes that its members of the public would ordinarily face, how can justice ever be applied equally? 

And when we talk about capital punishment, the stakes are even higher. Would the state ever feel inclined to engage in accepting responsibility for its wrongdoings?


When the public talk about capital punishment, as is the case today it is talked of as a deterrent. It is a common-sense approach that infers that the criminal is a rational being who weighs up the risks associated with his/her crime; i.e. is what he/she gets out of committing the crime worth the sanctions he/she might face if caught?


If only everything were that simple. Humans are complex beings at play in a wider world of uncertainty. They are not always rational. If faced with the deterrent of capital punishment, does anyone think that Dale Cregan would have stopped to think about this punishment before taking the lives of the WPCs?


Nor has capital punishment worked in the U.S.A.. The Death Penalty Information Center report that between 1990 and 2010, murder rates in states that have the death penalty remained consistently higher than in states that do not use capital punishment. 


The National Research Council researched a variety of studies that inform U.S. policy and its use of the death penalty. They concluded:


All of the studies on the possible effects of capital punishment on homicide rates suffer from three fundamental flaws... 
1. The studies do not factor in the effects of non-capital punishments that may also be imposed; 
2. The studies use incomplete or implausible models of potential murderers' perceptions of and response to the use of capital punishment; 
3. Estimates of the effect of capital punishment are based on statistical models that make assumptions that are not credible.

Just as with other so-called deterrents (think CCTV), there is no conclusive evidence that capital punishment works; it is also based on research that lacks credibility. 

Capital punishment is just as irrational as Dale Cregan. 


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