No on Question 6
FOR ALL the people who worked this year for peace abroad and progress at home, today's voting marks a bitter conclusion. But in Massachusetts, there is still one unambiguously good and decent thing that voters can do today. This is to vote "No" on Question #6, and thus to help speed the abolition of the death penalty in this state.
The traditional argument in support of capital punishment is that it deters crime. But states where capital punishment has been abolished do not have significantly higher murder rates than those where it is still on the books. Almost all of the countries of Western Europe have abolished the death penalty, and yet all of these countries have proportionately fewer murders than the United States. This admittedly does not "prove" that individuals have not been deterred from murder by the death penalty, but we certainly have no reason to expect that they have been.
But while we do not know that capital punishment protects anyone, we do know that it costs lives--those of the people we execute. And there are other costs as well. Capital punishment provides yet another brutalizing influence in a society already ladened with its own burden of violence and war. Because it is qualitatively so different from any other form of punishment now employed, its presence undermines the concept of degree in the administration of justice, and thus the rationality of the law itself is diminished. Worst of all, there is the ever present possibility that an innocent man will be executed.
Recently, a new development has underlined the need to abolish the death penalty. This is the tendency for capital cases to drag on for years and even decades, until a new class of convict has been created--the permanent resident of Death Row. The surreal horror of this kind of situation should be enough to convince anyone that the death penalty is creating far more suffering than it is preventing.
The voters' answer to Question #6 (which reads "Should the Commonwealth retain capital punishment for crime?") will not be binding on the state. But it is nonetheless obvious that a "No" vote will make final abolition of the death penalty more likely here.