Stuck in Boise the other day I picked up a copy of a book called Hanged.
The book is about all 23 men legally hanged in Idaho. Starts out in 1863 or so and ends in the 50s. Doesn't sound like a lot compared with Texas or Ohio but then our population is generally next to nothing so who knows what that means.
The stories are fascinating. The author tells them like they're fact, which of course they're not. They're just the story as accepted by the state for the purpose of killing a man. But even with all that, the best part is always the aftermath.
Judge so-and-so (who, naturally, has a name of a judge I know because god forbid we get new blood in our judiciary) says, "YOU WILL DIE, and may god have mercy yada yada"
Except for this Native American guy killed in the 1870s. That judge was evidently not interested in mercy.
Mercy is the big story here. So for each guy, no matter how bad, there's always this group of people saying, "hey, dude, don't kill him."
And there's the executioner. It's always the sheriff! Who also is warden. Who also has a close personal relationship with the man who he has to kill. And so in a few of these stories the Sheriff is so shook up by the killing that I actually felt worse for him than the dying guy.
It got me thinking anyway. The death penalty, even then, wasn't applied very evenly. Kind of upsetting really. And so you live in this world where a large proportion of the people know you if they want to kill you, and folks are thinking, hell, this guy shouldn't have to hang. And killing seems wrong, so it's kind of infrequent, and weighs heavy on everyone, except the governor, who always comes off as a total asshole.
Compare this with today, where even with the increased number we kill the only people that really get to know them are a few jailers, lawyers, and judges. The media does the rest, and it is as fickle as they come, mostly condemning and bloodthirsty as the worst Roman crowd.
Does the death penalty really have the same meaning now? Doesn't the death penalty rely on the dignity of human beings, and once that's gone, doesn't the message essentially get lost? You know what they never said in these old cases? Eye for an eye. In fact, they seem specifically against that idea. Rather, they are concerned about the message, the "here's the line!" Today, it's just about people wanting to kill each other. So frustrated in our own little lives, so ready to lash out and destroy, we can't show mercy anymore. And there's no politician forced to get to know us before he kills us, to point out how badly out of control we've become.