Tuesday, March 1, 2016

People are allowed to change their minds, right?


A couple of years ago I made a big series of posts about how it was possible to be a Christian (specifically Catholic) and still support the death penalty. And I totally believed that at the time. I was all for executing people who had been found guilty by the courts.

My assumption, then, was that the system caught more bad people than it did good/innocent and that while an innocent person's death would be deeply unfortunate it was just a consequence of making sure that terrible people were off the streets.

This thinking was based on the idea that there would be a very small number of innocent people dying. Again, not saying that I thought that was a good thing, just that I thought the system worked more often than it didn't.

I've recently been listening to a lot of podcasts. Some of these are fictional (horror, because why not?) and then some of them are Catholic and some of them are true crime. It's the true crime ones that have made me rethink my position on the whole death penalty thing.

Because I honestly never realized before how many people are falsely accused, arrested and convicted. I'm not talking about the people who continue to claim their innocence, but people who are actually, legitimately, provably innocent. People who are eventually released by DNA or other kinds of evidence. People who, if they had lived in a death penalty state, would have been dead long before their innocence was proven.

Listening to their stories is just sort of chilling after a certain point. How many people have been put away for life because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or because they were the wrong background, the wrong skin color?

My default has always been to trust the system. I was raised by an ex-cop after all. I've only ever experienced the good side of the system. Even when I've been pulled over for speeding, I've been treated with respect and kindness. And I have been doing the things I've been stopped for. Admittedly I've never been caught doing anything *exceptionally* bad, but I still feel that if I was caught, let's say, shoplifting that I would be treated generally well. Given that I would be in the middle of committing a crime and all.

But I'm white. White in the South. I've never *had* to be afraid of the police, or anyone else in the judicial system. My experience is not the experience of all. Donna, my friend and movie buddy Donna, happens to be African-American. She's also Native American, but that's less obvious from just looking at her. She is the least racially sensitive person I know. She was raised on a reservation up in the mountains of New York and racism was apparently just not a thing that happened where she was raised. And even she has noticed that she gets pulled over rather frequently while driving home from her job - she works the night shift and is getting home at two, three a.m. sometimes. Pulled over on some rather slim reasoning at times, by the way.

And I still think that the system, generally, is meant for good. And the vast majority of people working in the system are good people. But there are flaws in the system. Mistakes are made. Not everyone is a good, honest citizen. Not even the people meant to police the rest of us. Prejudice can't be removed just by a little training and lip service to the thought that everyone is equal under the law.

So now I think I'd rather have a guilty person go free because we can't prove their guilt than have an innocent one locked up or put to death in error.

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