I heard something that sounded very odd on the radio yesterday: news that Florida's governor had expressed his "gratitude" that lethal injection was once again legal, and his intention of getting a death warrant out there as quickly as possible.
I oppose the death penalty, for somewhat idiosyncratic reasons. Some of those reasons are well captured by the passage in The Plague where Tarrou talks about his father.
When I was seventeen my father asked me to come to hear him speak in court. There was a big case on at the assizes, and probably he thought I'd see him to his best advantage. Also I suspect he hoped I'd be duly impressed by the pomp and ceremony of the law and encouraged to take up his profession. I could tell he was keen on my going, and the prospect of seeing a side of my father's character so different from that we saw at home appealed to me. Those were absolutely the only reasons I had for going to the trial. What happened in a court had always seemed to me as natural, as much in the order of things, as a military parade on the Fourteenth of July or a school speech day. My emotions on the subject were purely abstract, and I'd never given it serious thought.
The only picture I carried away with me of that day's proceedings was a picture of the criminal. I have little doubt he was guilty--of what crime is no great matter. That little man of about thirty, with sparse, sandy hair, seemed so eager to confess everything, so genuinely horrified at what he'd done and what was going to be done iwth him, that after a few minutes I had eyes for nothing and nobody else. He looked like a yello owl scared blind by too much light. His tie was slightly awry, he kept biting his nails, those of one hand only, his right . . . I needn't go on, need I? You've understood--he was a living human being.
As for me, it came on me suddenly, in a flash of understanding; until then I'd thought of him only under his commonplace official designation, as 'the defendant." And though I can't say I quite forgot my father, soemthing seemed to grip my vitals at that moment and riveted all my attention on the little man in the dock. I hardly heard what was being said; I only knew that they were set on killing that living man, and an uprush of some elemental instinct, like a wave, had swept me to his side. And I did not really wak up until my father rose to address the court.
In his red gown he was another man, no longer genial or good-natured; his mouth spewed out long, turgid phrases like an endless stream of snakes. I realised he was clamoring for the prisoner's death, telling the jury that they owed it to society to find him guilty; he went so far as to demand that the man should have his head cut off. Not exactly in those words, I admit. 'He must pay the supreme penalty,' was the formula. But the difference, really, was slight, and the result the same. He had the head he asked for. Only of course it wasn't he who did the actual job. I, who saw the whole business through to its conclusion, felt a far closer, far more terrifying intimacy with that wretched man than my father can ever have felt.
Whether you are for or against the death penalty, an execution is a dire act. It seems odd to express gratitude that you can get back to it as quickly as possible.
On a related note, I have a stupid but well meant question: why are there so many problems with lethal injection? When my vet put my dog to sleep, he used a single shot which he assured me worked quickly and painlessly. Was he lying to me? And if he wasn't, what does my vet know that the State of Florida does not?