Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Bang 'em": How the death penalty reduces us to the level of criminals

Even if I favored the death penalty, I'd feel a little bit sick at the display that occurred in a Philadelphia court today:

"Walk back into this courtroom and say: 'Bang 'em, bang 'em.' "

Using the words uttered by convicted cop killer Eric DeShann Floyd against him and codefendant Levon T. Warner, a Philadelphia prosecutor today asked the jury to return two death sentences for the 2008 shooting of Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski.

In an impassioned 35-minute speech to the Common Pleas Court jury of seven men and five women, Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy argued that Floyd and Warner forfeited their right to life on May 3, 2008 when they advanced their long criminal careers to include bank robbery and the killing of a pursuing police officer.

He then turned to the jury and told them to return the double death penalty "not out of vengeance" but because "it's what the law requires and it's what justice demands."

But Conroy is clearly asking the jury to act out of a sense of vengeance, and it's silly to pretend otherwise. For most people that'll be ok: Floyd and Warner are cop killers -- if anybody deserves the death penalty, it's these two guys.

Maybe I'm just a namby-pamby, though, but even in these circumstances I don't want the state being quite so gleeful in its pursuit of the death penalty. That's an awesome power given to prosecutors, juries and the courts, and if that power must be used, well, is it too much to ask that it be used soberly?

Instead, prosecutor Conroy used the exact same words of death that cop-killer Floyd used, in order persuade the jury to impose a death penalty. It's pretty damning proof that the death penalty reduces the justice system -- and the society it serves -- to the level of murderous criminals.

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