Sunday, April 16, 2017

Murder vs. homicide

It's cold and cloudy this Easter morning.  We had tentative plans to go somewhere, but I'm not sure if we will.  It seems pretty yucky outside today.

Yesterday, I read about Arkansas's plan to execute eight men in rapid succession, starting tomorrow.  State officials wanted to execute all of these men in less than two week's time.  Fortunately, a federal judge has blocked the state's extraordinary mission to dispatch so many men on death row.

I don't really want to get into another lengthy discussion as to why I dislike the death penalty.  I have already done that too many times on this blog.  It's a polarizing issue and one that I couldn't say I never support, even though I'd like to see the death penalty abolished.  For example, I do believe that some criminals are dangerous enough that they should be executed simply in the name of public safety.  John Allen Muhammed was one such person, as was Timothy McVeigh.  However, most people on death row aren't like the Beltway Sniper or the Oklahoma City Bomber.  Thank heavens for that.

The lady who runs the Life Is Not Pickles and Hairspray Duggar page on Facebook posted about the plan before the federal judge blocked Arkansas from following through.  She wrote an impassioned comment about why she is against the death penalty and used the word "murder" to describe the state's plans to execute the prisoners.

I have Facebook friend who is a federal police officer.  He is much more conservative than I am and has no issues with the death penalty.  He commented that capital punishment is not the same as murder.  I didn't both to argue with him because, in a legal sense, he's probably correct.

According to, the legal definition of murder is the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law.  Of course, there are other uses for murder, including a surprising one that has nothing to do with killing or death.  Did you know that a flock of crows is sometimes referred to as a "murder"?  I sure didn't.

Based on my friend's comment, the specific definition we're looking for is the first one.  In order to commit murder, a person has to be acting unlawfully.  A person who is being executed by state or federal authorities is being killed lawfully.  In that sense, I can see why we can't really call capital punishment murder.  However, capital punishment is homicide.  The word homicide simply means the killing of one person by another.  Technically, the terms murder and homicide aren't really interchangeable, although people interchange them all the time.  A person who dies at the hands of the government is a victim of homicide, but not murder.

Anyway... I know next to nothing about about the eight men who were scheduled to die during Arkansas's execution spree before a federal judge intervened.  I do know that some of them have been in prison for a very long time.  I know that Arkansans are typically law and order people.  Bill spent his formative years in Arkansas-- Duggar and Walmart country, where Trump supporters abound.  It doesn't surprise me that the executions were to be carried out in a southern state.  There was a time when I agree with capital punishment wholeheartedly.  I was a lot younger then, and surrounded by conservative loved ones who were also law and order people.

And even though I am now not in favor of the death penalty, I can certainly understand why many people are fine with it.  For some reason, the older I get, the less hard hearted I am about some things.  It seems like American ideals are becoming at odds with my personal ideals about some issues.  The older I get, the stranger my homeland seems.  I don't see how decent people can rejoice in killing another person, even if that person is a criminal.  I understand the desire to avenge, but deep down, I still have a moral problem with executions.  I find them macabre and disturbing.

And yet... as my conservative friends like to point out, I am in favor of keeping abortion legal.  It actually really bugs me when people trot out my support for abortion rights as not being aligned with my opposition to capital punishment.  To me, abortion is a completely different situation.  A developing fetus has no concept of what life is.  No one I have ever met has remembered being in the womb.  There are situations where an abortion can mean the difference between life and death.  It's also something that only biological females can ever experience.

Capital punishment, on the other hand, involves someone who had an existence outside of the womb.  This is a person who has a concept of what life is.  Very few people in the world are all good or bad.  And even if a person on death row doesn't care about his or her life, there will be people who will be affected by their execution.    

It seems fitting that these eight men got a stay before Easter.  They'll probably still be executed, though.  Do they deserve to die?  A lot of people seem to think so.

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