T e n n e s s e e  L i b e r a l
L I B E R A L    D O S E          b y  S. L. McKay
Dogs and the Death Penalty
In our culture, a dog that attacks a person is usually "put down."  The assumption being that the animal is innately violent, a menace to the community, and no rehabilitation is possible. Reflection of physical and emotional treatment of the animal by its caregivers, which likely contributed to its psychosis, is seldom mentioned and rarely taken into account.

Some in our society cast the same narrow view upon humans convicted of violent crimes. Many find it easier to look at criminals as innately flawed and unsalvageable rather than to attempt to understand the complex and tragic experiences that shaped them, or to courageously work to undo the damage and address the root causes of violence in order to prevent future victims on all sides.  Such callous mindsets are out of step with both secular and spiritual teachings, which argue through nature and nurture theories that a narrow, harsh view of human nature is simplistic and erroneous.  

The nature view, embraced by many religions, basically states that humans are separate from other animals by Divine plan. We are given the ability to reason thus the ability to choose. The same free will that can lead to a fall from grace can also lead to redemption. Salvation is possible, even from our worst decisions, if we choose to seek forgiveness and repent for our sins. From this perspective, no one has the right to intervene between God and sinner.

The nurture view, touted by science and embraced by both religious and secular communities, states that we are products of our environment. It recognizes that nurturing, or lack thereof, has a profound effect on who and what we become.  Further, intervention by caring human beings can and does rescue "lost souls." Rehabilitation is indeed possible.

Despite widespread acceptance of both nature and nurture theories of human development, we still insist on inflicting barbaric punishment as though it will prevent and protect us from harm. The facts clearly dispute this fear-based misconception.  State killing (homicide is listed as the cause of death on death certificates of people executed in the United States) is simply not a deterrent to violent crime.  For example, research by Morgan Quitno and the FBI show that most death penalty states, like Tennessee, have consistently higher murder rates than those that don't.  Conversely, according to the FBI, 10 of 12 states without capital punishment have homocide rates below the national average.  Furthermore, such facts prove constant.  The New York Times released a study that showed over the last 20 years homocide rates in states with capitol punishment were  48% - 101% higher than in states that didn't have the death penalty.  State killing is not a deterrent to violent crime.

Both nature and nurture philosophies acknowledge that we have the ability to change and to be changed by our experiences.  Furthermore, we can effect positive change if we choose to embrace compassion, understanding, and forgiveness -- and act accordingly.

This brings us to the question of whether or not state murder is something a civil society should embrace. To answer this question, we should begin by considering whether or not we believe humans and dogs are the same.
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