Wednesday, June 9, 2010


ID: Here’s a question for you, do you believe in the death penalty?

Batman: I’ll assume, despite the way you asked it, you’re wondering whether or not I agree with its tenets as a public policy. First, I’ll briefly pass over what its two main tenets are, just so we’re agreeing on the premise: first, that it acts as a deterrent; and second, that it gives closure to the victims of families- in essence that an eye for an eye is justice.

First, as far as the death penalty being used as a deterrent, I tend to concur with Levitt, in that its deterrence is minimal at best. Consider that in Gotham, gang mortality usually hovers around 2% annually, at least when there aren’t any major territorial disputes; year-to-year, there are about 3,000 people nationally on death row, and around thirty executions, so 1% of the people on death row are executed every year. It’s actually safer to be on death row than it is to be in a gang on the streets. Add to the preceding the fact that of all criminal convictions eligible for a death penalty, only about 2% actually receive a death sentence. And only about 12% of death sentences are ever carried out, and they take an average of 12 years before they are.

Bear in mind that 80% of all executions occur in the south- where murder rates are consistently higher, by the way- so people living elsewhere have much better odds. For good measure, consider that a national survey of police chiefs found that 80% didn’t believe that criminals contemplated punishment before committing a crime. The statistics are simply against the idea that the death penalty acts as a viable deterrence.

Now, most of your readers will probably be familiar, but I’ll state for your record that my parents were gunned down during a mugging, right in front of me. I was only eight years old. The mugger was a man named Joe Chill. Witnessing that violent act led me to create the Batman persona, to train myself to stop others from suffering at the hands of criminals. Years later, I found Chill again, only to watch as another criminal gunned him down in an alley, much the same way he did my parents.

And let me state, for the record, I fully intended to shoot Chill myself; I was armed to that very purpose. But when I saw Chill shot, I wasn’t given peace, or satisfaction- not even relief. It hollowed out the pit of my stomach, and I recognized that no man has the right to take a life. What Chill had taken from me, from my parents, he deserved punishment, maybe even vengeance, but murder- even for a murderer- is too far.

I still shudder to think of what he nearly made me into; I had never before been farther from the boy my parents raised than in that moment, and what still terrifies me, to this day, is the fact that I probably would have pulled the trigger myself. I probably would have crossed that line, and I don’t think I would have come back from that. I think I’d have spent the next several months murdering my way across Gotham’s underground, killing monsters and mobsters and all manner of bastards who undoubtedly deserve to die. But the cost to me as a person, and I’m not even sure I believe in a soul but the damage it would have done to my soul- I would have been irrevocably lost.

Watching Chill die stopped me from doing something drastic and horrible, but it didn’t give me closure. Closure would have been holding a gun to him and recognizing that I couldn’t stoop so low, that I was better than him, that the people he murdered raised me better than that, that no matter what he’d put me through, he hadn’t managed to alter the core of me. And I don’t have that- I’ll never have that.

As much as I hated him- as much as I still hate him- I couldn’t revel in his death, couldn’t savor it. And I wanted to. I wanted to rejoice; my parents’ murder was finally avenged, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t justice, just another pointless murder in an alley. And he didn’t deserve to die like my parents- that was too good for him.

ID: Are you all right? You’re shaking.

B: I’m angry- and clearly I’m still upset. But oddly enough, what sickens me most about the debate is the first part, how truly ineffectual it is. But the best argument, because at the end of the day it’s difficult to sway people with moral ideas, let alone sympathy for monsters, is that it doesn’t make fiscal sense. Particularly when our government is chest-deep in debt.

The cost of executing criminals is enormous. A death penalty investigation is 3 times more expensive. Death penalty litigation costs an estimated 16 times more. And the sentences themselves, including appeals and incarceration, is 21 times more expensive. The extra cost of merely trying a death penalty case is about $2 million dollars beyond what a normal prosecution would be. Dollar for dollar, that money is better spent on more officers on the streets- that’s a deterrence you can’t argue with.

ID: What about with men like the Joker? Men who kill indiscriminately, who there’s obviously no stopping through conventional means.

B: Two quick points: there are no other men like the Joker- period- and he doesn’t kill indiscriminately; he kills when he thinks it’s funny. But I’ve always been of the opinion that when conventional means fail, you should use unconventional means. Sever his spinal cord. Take away his fingers. While you’re at it, remove his tongue and jaw. Take away everything he uses as a weapon, everything he’s lost the privilege of keeping. I’m okay with cruel and unusual

ID: Particularly with someone as cruel and unusual as him?

B: Something like that. But really I’m a pragmatist.

I’ve done everything I’ve done to honor my parent’s memory; to take a life, even to take his life, would have been to stain their legacy forever. A different man, and, maybe even a better man, would simply put a bullet in him- but I can’t. And on moral grounds, I don’t think we should. Especially with the Joker, I think to resort to barbarism, to kill him rather than continue to show that reasonable men are better by refusing to kill him, I think he wins. He doesn’t carry the day, but he walks away with the moral victory, and I don’t think that’s something we can let him do.

But it couldn’t be me, it couldn’t be a vigilante meting out this crude justice on the criminally insane; in his mind that would just be two madmen dueling on the precipice of insanity. It has to be a function of government, a state action, sanctioned and sealed. Chaos and insanity cannot prevail over a rational society- because we can’t let it if we hope for a peaceful world where no one will lose their parents in a dark alley- and if I pray for anything, I pray for that.

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