Edward Koch Essay On Death And Justice

The passing of former New York Mayor Ed Koch (shown) on February 1 brings to mind one of the most controversial things he ever did as a Democrat in the heart of American liberalism. In 1985, the three-term (January 1, 1978 - December 31, 1989) mayor wrote an essay defending the death penalty. He even had the temerity to declare, "Life is indeed precious and I believe the death penalty helps to affirm that fact."

Though it outraged liberals and "progressives" among the nation's esteemed "intelligentsia," Koch's essay reflected the convictions of most Americans, then as now, as opinion polls have consistently shown a substantial majority in favor of the death penalty. Yet the issue has been hotly debated for decades, based on claims concerning the morality of a state-imposed sentence of death. In June 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court, in Furman v. Georgia, found the death penalty to be unconstitutional when sentences are handed down and executions are carried out in ways that are arbitrary or influenced by racial bias. The decision resulted in a de facto ban on executions nationwide, pending further word from the Court. They were resumed in 1976 under guidelines meant to provide greater consistency and eliminate racial discrimination in capital cases.

In broader terms, however, arguments have often centered on the issue of deterrence. Death penalty defenders have argued that the electric chair, the gas chamber, the hangman's noose, or lethal injection deterred people from killing others. Opponents argue the possibility of facing the death sentence has no deterrent effect on those who kill in crimes of passion or those who believe they won't get caught. One argument that defies refutation is that whomever else it may or may not deter, capital punishment surely deters the killer who has been caught, duly tried, and executed. That one will not kill again. Death penalty opponents argue, however, that we can achieve that goal just as well with sentences of life without parole.

Koch, writing at the time the electric chair was either still in use or within recent memory, cited the example of a man who boasted of being undeterred because the death penalty was not in force. "Consider the tragic death of Rosa Velez, who happened to be home when a man named Luis Vera burglarized her apartment in Brooklyn," Koch wrote. Vera admitted he shot and killed the woman. "She knew me, and I knew I wouldn't go to the chair," he later admitted.

Yet death penalty opponents would have us feel guilty as citizens when the state puts a killer to death for his crime or crimes. We are asked to believe that the state is hypocritical for punishing killing with killing. To recall a refrain from the 1960s, "Why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing people is wrong?" One might say the same about a prison sentence for a kidnapper. Is the state wrong to imprison people for imprisoning people because imprisoning people is wrong? What should we do, short of treating every crime as a sickness that can be cured with shock therapy or some other form of "extreme makeover"?

Koch cited as a "curiosity of modern life" the spectacle of convicted murderers, when facing execution, lecturing the rest of society on the immorality of the death penalty. Such special pleading suggests the condemned killer is as much, if not more, sinned against than sinning. He may have killed someone in a fit of passion or desperate need for a quick financial gain. The state, on the other hand, will calmly and coolly throw the switch or inject the needle as a matter of simple retribution. An individual made a rash and foolish judgment. The state should know better.

But retribution is an essential component of justice and society, like individuals, has a right to self-defense against homicide. Again, death penalty abolitionists argue that a sentence of life without parole fulfills that need. Some death penalty defenders argue that the care and feeding of murderers until they die of old age in prison simply costs the state too much money. Opponents contend the legal costs of imposing the death penalty, after all the prisoner's appeals have been exhausted, outweighs the cost of imprisonment. Either argument is crass and hardly relevant in a debate over the sanctity of life and the demands of justice. Not everything can or should be determined by a cost-benefit analysis.

A problem with the life sentence alternative is that killers sometimes escape prison. Or they murder guards or other prisoners with impunity. Already sentenced to life, with the death penalty not available to the state, what do they have to lose? Then there is the question of proportionality. Are there not some crimes so heinous that the execution of the perpetrators is the only punishment that even remotely fits the crime?

The Bible has been argued over with more heat than light in the debate over the death penalty. "Thou shalt not kill" is undoubtedly one of the Ten Commandments, though it is clear the meaning in that context is "murder," or unlawful killing. Only committed pacifists believe killing an aggressor threatening one's own life or the life of another is inherently evil, or that killing soldiers of an invading army is murder. And the law that came by Moses was not written for pacifists. God in the Old Testament frequently sent the Israelites off to war. And Exodus and Deuteronomy, where the Ten Commandments are found, prescribe the death penalty for a wide range of crimes. In Genesis, God is heard not only affirming the death penalty, but also offering a reason for it that anticipates Koch's argument; "Whosoever shall shed man's blood, his blood shall be shed: for man was made to the image of God." (Genesis 9:6).

Abolitionists often cite the New Testament story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11) in an effort to enlist Jesus as a death penalty opponent. The law, the crowd pointed out, prescribed death by stoning for such an offense. (One shudders to think of the mortality rate if adultery were a capital crime in modern America.) But surely the fact that one might oppose a death sentence in some cases does not necessarily mean he would oppose it in all cases. Besides, even in those pre-Miranda times, the accused was entitled to some semblance of due process. And the gang that dragged the woman to Jesus appeared more like a lynch mob than a jury.

Koch in his essay offered the following simple and compelling argument: If we reduced the penalty for rape, he asked, would that show a greater or a lesser respect for women and human sexuality? The question really answers itself. So what does abolishing the death penalty say about our respect for life? "When we lower the penalty for murder," Koch wrote, "it signals a lessened regard for the value of the victim's life." The mayor also dismissed as "sophistic nonsense" the argument advanced by some death penalty opponents that a life sentence is actually a harsher punishment than the penalty of death. "A few killers may decide not to appeal a death sentence," he wrote, "but the overwhelming majority make every effort to stay alive."

Here is another question: Suppose the killer of the 20 first-graders and six faculty members at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, last December had not killed himself, but were sitting now in a jail cell awaiting trial. Suppose he were found legally sane. Would death penalty foes oppose the ultimate penalty for him? The question would be hypothetical even under those conditions, since Connecticut has abolished its death penalty. But if you were the parent of a six-year-old with a dozen bullet holes in his dead body, would you oppose a sentence of death for the child's killer?

No doubt some people would, holding fast to their allegedly humane principles. Such principles are marvelously flexible, however, as seen from the fact that many of the most ardent opponents of the death penalty are equally zealous in support of "abortion rights." They would spare the lives of convicted murderers, but not the lives of innocent pre-born babies. Their consciences forbid them from opposing a woman's "right to choose," even if it has cost an estimated 55 million lives since the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling prohibiting states from protecting prenatal life. Ours has been an age peculiar for the passage of laws to protect human health and the repeal of laws to defend human life. And yet we have consolation with us: At least those aborted in the womb have been spared the dangers of second-hand smoke.

What more should we expect from the purveyors of "progressive" thought in what T.S. Eliot described as "an age which advances progressively backwards?"

Photo of Ed Koch: AP Images

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Unformatted text preview: EDWARD I. KOCH I Death and Justice Edward Koch (born 1924) is a native of New York, a veteran of World War It, and a graduate of New York University, where he earned a law degree in 1948. For some two decades after graduation, he practiced law in New York City, during which time he began playing an active role in Democratic Party polities. in 1966‘, he became a district leader and three years later was elected to the city council. Between 1969 and 1977, he served in the [1.8. House of Representatives, where he became known for his strong liberal stance on social issues. In 1977', he waged a successful campaign for mayor of New York, pledging to cut crime and reduce wasteful spending. He held the mayor’s office until 1990. While mayor, Koch authored two books: Mayor (1.984), an examination of his city’s politics, and Politics (1.985), which records his years as a political fledgling. The following essay, which critiques > the views of those opposed to capital punishment, reflects Koch’s long-term commitment to crime lighting. Last December a man named Robert Lee Willie, who had been convicted of 1 raping and murdering anu-tS-year-old woman, was executed in the-Louisiana state prison. in a statement issued several minutes before his death, Mr. Willie said: ”Killing people is wrong.‘ . . . It makes no difference whether it’s citizens, (Eddintrieis‘, oiEoinfiiiiFfiEsTKiili‘figié‘iiiidfigf’irwdweeks later‘in South Carolina. an admitted killer named Joseph Carl Shaw was put to death for murdering two teenagers. In an appeal to the governor for clemency. Mr. Shaw wrote: “Killing is wrong when I did it. Killing is wrong when you do it. I hope you have the courage and moral strength to stop the killing." It is a curiosity of modern life that we find ourselves being lectured on OVERVIEW OF ARGUMENT ESSAYS Three 0! the five argument es- says rely primarily upon rational appeal. one combines emotional and ethical appeal, and the re- maining one uses humor to ad- vance an ironic argument. Three of the authors use authoritative opinion and statistical findings, one cites historical facts, and one reiies entirely on personal experience. Three essays use formal—informal language, one is highly formai, and one is in- formally written. All draw upon the writing strategies discussed in earlier chapters. PERSPECTIVE Koch makes his case for the death penalty by refuting, one after the other, opposition argu- ments against capital punish- ment. Perhaps because the issue is so controversial, Koch takes special care to project a favorable image of himself both near the beginning and at the end of his essay. The primary appeal. how- ever, is rational. Introduction: paragraphs 1 and 2 Exampies 2 morality by cold—blooded killers. Mr. Willie previously had been convicted of vames baCkgro‘md I aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, and themurders-of_a-Louisiahmdeputym__-__c. _. and a man from Missouri. Mr. Shaw committed another murder a week before the two for which he was executed, and admitted mutilating the body of the 14- year—old girl he killed. I can’t help wondering what prompted these murderers to speak out against killing as they entered the death—house door. Did their new— 497 .mew. .m_________ 498 Reader Body: paragraphs 3—14 Proposition of fact Development by example Ethical appeat Author‘s qualifications First refutation: rejects emotional appeal Concedes point Rational appeal: analogy Ethical appeal: concedes point I Second refutation 3 j‘lr‘ r. 5 4"? found reverence for life stem from the realization that they were about to lose their own? ‘. «- Life is indeed precious. and I believe the death penalty helps to affirm this fact. Had the death penalty been a real possibility in the minds of these mur- derers. they might well have stayed their hand. They might have shown morai awareness before their victims died, and not after. Consider the tragic death of Rosa Velez. who happened to be home when a man named Luis Vera burglarized her apartment in Brooklyn. “Yeah, E shot her," Vera admitted. "She knew me, and i knew I wouldn’t go to the chair." During my 22 years in public service, i have heard the pros and cons of capital punishment expressed with special intensity. As a district leader. council- man, congressman, and mayor, I have represented constituencies generally thought of as liberal. Because I support the death penalty for heinous crimes of murder, 1 have sometimes been the subject of emotional and outraged attacks by voters who find my position reprehensible or worse. I have listened to their ideas. I have weighed their objections carefully. I still support the death penalty. The reasons I maintained my position can be best understood by examining the arguments most frequently heard in opposition. 1. The death penalty is “barbaric. " Sometimes opponents of capital pun- ishment horrify with taies of lingering death on the gallows, of faulty electric chairs, or of agony in the gas chamber. Partly in response to such protests, several states such as North Carolina and Texas switched to execution by lethal injection. The condemned person is put to death painlessly, without ropes, voltage, bullets, or gas. Did this answer the objections of death penalty oppo- nents? Of course not. On June 22, 1984, The New York Times published an editorial that sarcastically attacked the new “hygienic" method of death by injection, and stated that “execution can never be made humane through sci- ence." So it’s not the method that really troubles opponents. It’s the death itself they consider barbaric. Admittedly, capital punishment is not a pleasant topic. However, one does not have to like the death penalty in order to support it any more than one must like radical surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy in order to find necessary these attempts at curing cancer. Ultimately we may learn how to cure cancer with a simple pill. Unfortunateiy, that day has not yet arrived. Today we are faced with the choice of letting the cancer spread or trying to cure it with the methods available, methods that one day will almost certainly be considered barbaric. But to give up and do nothing would be far more barbaric and would certainly delay the discovery of an eventual cure. The analogy between cancer and murder is imperfect, because murder is not the ”disease" we are trying to cure. The disease is injustice. We may not like the death penalty, but it must be available to punish crimes of cold-blooded murder, cases in which any other form of punishment would be inadequate and, therefore, unjust. If we create a society in which injustice is not tolerated, incidents of murder—the most flagrant form of injustice—will diminish. 2. No other major democracy uses the death penalty. No other major democracy—in fact, few other countries of any description—are plagued by a murder rate such as that in the United States. Fewer and fewer Americans can a /,. remember the days when unlocked doors were the norm and murder was a rare and terrible offense. in America the murder rate climbed 122 percent behveen 1963 and 1980. During that same period, the murder rate in New York City increased by almost 400 percent. and the statistics are even worse in many other cities. A study at M.I.T. showed that based on 1970 homicide rates a person who lived in a large American city ran a greater risk of being murdered than an American soldier in World War It ran of being killed in combat. It is not surprising that the laws of each country differ according to differing conditions and traditions. if other countries had our murder problem. the cry for capital punishmentwould bejust as loud as it is here. And I daresay that any other major democracy where 75 percent of the people supported the death penalty would soon enact it into law. 3. An innocent person might be executed by mistake. Consider the work of Adam Bedau, one of the most implacable foes of capital punishment in this country. According to Mr. Bedau, it is “false sentimentality to argue that the death penalty should be abolished because of the abstract possibility that an innocent person might be executed." He cites a study of the 7,000 executions in this country from 1893 to 1971, and concludes that the record fails to show that such cases occur. The main point. however, is this. If government functioned only when the possibility of error didn’t exist, government wouldn’t function at all. Human life deserves special protection, and one of the best ways to guarantee that protection is to assure that convicted murderers do not kill again. Only the death penalty can accomplish this end. in a recent case in New Jersey, a man named Richard Biegenwald was freed from prison after serving 18 years for murder; since his release he has been convicted of committing four murders. A prisoner named Lemuel Smith. who, while serving four life sentences for murder (plus two life sentences for kidnapping and robbery) in New York’s Green Haven Prison, lured a woman corrections officer into the chaplain's office and strangled her. He then mutilated and dismembered her body. An additional life sentence for Smith is meaningless. Because New York has no death penalty statute, Smith has effectively been given a license to kill. But the problem of multiple murder is not confined to the nation’s penitentiaries. in 1981, 91 police officers were killed in the line of duty in this country. Seven percent of those arrested in the cases that have been solved had a previous arrest for murder. in New York City in 1976 and 1977, 85 persons arrested for homicide had a previous arrest for murder. Six of these individuals had two previous arrests for murder. and one had four previous murder arrests. During those two years the New York police were arresting for murder persons with a previous arrest for murder on the average ofone every 8.5 days. This is not surprising when we learn that in 1975. for example, the median time served in Massachusetts for homicide was less than two-and—a half years. In 1976 a study sponsored by the Twentieth Century Fund found that the average time served in the United States for first-degree murder is ten years. The median time served may be considerably lower. 4. Capital punishment cheapens the value ofhuman life. On the contrary, it can be easily demonstrated that the death penalty strengthens the value of __ human life. If the penalty for rape were lowered, clearly it would signal a lessened Argument 499 Evidence: statistics I 3 Third refutation I Evidence: statistics I Established truths Development by examples I Emotional appeal I 9 Evidence: statistics I 10 Fourth refutation I Rational appeal: analogy I L. 500 Reader I Fifth refutation 11 l Sixth refutation 1'2 Evidence: authoritative opinion 13 I Seventh refutation I Rational appeal: analogy 14 regard for the victims‘ suffering, humiiiation. and personal integrity. It would ‘ cheapen their horrible experience, and expose them to an increased danger of recurrence. When we lower the penalty for murder, it signals a lessened regard for the value of the victim’s life. Some critics of capital punishment, such as columnist Jimmy Bresiin, have suggested that a life sentence is actually aharsher penalty for murder than death. This is sophistic nonsense. A few kiilers may decide not to appeal a death sentence, but the overwhelming majority make every effort to stay alive. It is by exacting the highest penalty forth'e taking of human life that we affirm the highest vaiue of human life. 5'. The death penaftg is applied in a diacrimi'mtorg manner. This factor no longer seems to be the problem it once was. The appeais process for a condemned prisoner is lengthy and painstaking. Every effort is made to see that the verdict and sentence were fairiy arrived at. However, assertions of discrimination are not an argument for ending the death penalty but for extending it. It is not justice to exclude everyone from the penalty of the law if a few are found to be so favored. Justice requires that the law be applied equally to ail. 6‘. Thou shalt not kill. The Bible is our greatest source of moral inspiration. Opponents of the death penalty frequently cite the sixth of the Ten Command- ments in an attempt to prove that capital punishment is divinely proscribed. in the original Hebrew, however, the Sixth Commandment reads, “Thou Shalt Not Commit Murder,” and the Torah specifies capital punishment for a variety of offenses. The biblical viewpoint has been upheld by philosophers throughout history. The greatest thinkers of the 19th century—Kant. Locke, Hobbes, Rous- seau, Montesquieu, and Mill—agreed that natural law property authorizes the sovereign to take life in order to vindicate justice. Only Jeremy Bentham was ambivalent. Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin endorsed it. Abraham Lincoin authorized executions for deserters in wartime. Alexis de Tocqueville, who ex- pressed profound respect for American institutions, believed that the death penalty was indispensable to the support of social order. The United States Constitution, widely admired as one of the seminal achievements in the history of humanity, condemns cruel and inhuman punishment, but does not condemn capital punishment. 7. The death penafty is state-sanctioned murder. This is the defense with which Messrs. Willie and Shaw hoped to soften the resoive of those who sen- tenced them to death. By saying in effect, “You’re no better than i am," the murderer seeks to bring his accusers down to his own level. It is also a popular argument among opponents of capital punishment, but a transparently false one. Simply put, the state has rights that the private individual does not. in a democracy, those rights are given to the state by the electorate. The execution of a lawfully condemned killer is no more an act of murder than is iegai imprison- ment an act of kidnapping. if an individual forces a neighbor to pay him money under threat of punishment, it’s called extortion. if the state does it, it's calied taxation. Rights and responsibilities surrendered by the individual are what give the state its power to govern. This contract is the foundation of civilization itself. Everyone wants his or her rights, and will defend them jealously. Not everyone, however, wants responsibilities, especially the painful responsibilities that come with law enforcement. Twenty-one years ago a woman named Kitty ,, lions for coping with one of our most pressing social problems. Genovesc was assaulted and murdered on a street in New York. Dozens of neighbors heard her cries for help but did nothing to assist her. They didn‘t even call the police. In such a climate the criminal understandably grows bolder. In the presence of moral cowardice. he lectures us on our supposed failings and tries to equate his crimes with our quest for justice. The death of anyone—~even a convicted killerL—diminishes us all. But we are diminished even more by a justice system that fails to function. it is an illusion to let ourselves believe that doing away with capital punishment removes the murderer‘s deed from our conscience. The rights of society are paramount. When we protect guilty lives. we give up innocent lives in exchange. When opponents of capital punishment say to the state: “I will not let you kill in my name," they are also saying to murderers: “You can kill in your own name as long as l have an excuse for not getting involved." lt is hard to imagine anything worse than being murdered while neighbors do nothing. But something worse exists. When those same neighbors shrink back from justly punishing the murderer, the victim dies twice. Argument 50 1 Development by example 15 Conclusion: paragraphs 15 and 16 Ethical appeal Rational appeal: deduction I la Emotional appeal I —-——-———-—_______________ DISCUSSION QUESTIONS I DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. Why do you think Koch ends paragraph 2 with a question rather than a direct 1' “nah allows made” m an- statement of his opinion? swer the question for themselves (although his opinion is obvi- 2. Why does Koch tell us in paragraph 8 that Bedau is “one of the most implacable foes of ”is" He does {his beam-‘9 “'11? capital punishment in this country”? the two murderers and their confidants knew the real motiva- 3. Why do you think Koch devotes most of his essay to refuting opposition arguments? “0“ bellin the” “elements and because he (Koch) wants to es- —“————'_.—“——'—————~——— lablish an acceptable ethical im- age. Boldly stating that the two —-——————._.._____._______ SUGGESTION FOR WRITING I Write an essay that argues against capital punishment and that refutes Koch’s evidence. If you agree with Koch, select another controversial issue (perhaps a particular solution to the waste disposal or street crime problem}. take a position, and argue for it. murderers were merely trying to "save their skin" would he coun- terproductive to this image. 2. It is significant that an im- placable opponent of capital punishment concedes that the innocent victim argument is not _ effective. Had Bedau been neu— “-—'_——'———-—-—-—-—-———-——._._—.___ tral or in favor of capital punish- ANDREW KUPFER I What to Do About Drugs A'ndrew Kupfer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology from Brandeis University and advanced degrees in regional and urban planning from the London School of Economics and Cambridge University. He worked as a planner for the New York City Department ofHovsing Preservation and Development and as o copyeditor for the American institute of Physics. In 1982, he began working for Fortune as a reporter. Since 1988, he has been an associate editor for that magazine. In our selection, Kepler offers his sugges- ment, his quotation would have carried much less weight. 3. in order to be effective, a topic of popular controversy such as capital punishment should refute some key argu- ments on the other side. Because the opposing views are so well known to many readers. Koch probably decided he could best address these views by centering his argument on them. ...
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