« Patient privacy and abortion law | Main | Christopher Hitchens opposes "barbarism" »

Death penalty analysis

In a New York Times article about the possible use of the death penalty against a white Mafia boss, we find this bit of "analysis":

Mr. Massino's case is awkward for death penalty critics. To press for a capital case against him, they would have to abandon their opposition to execution. But if they oppose capital charges in the case of an alleged Mafia chief, they would undercut their argument that the failure to seek the death of mob boss shows the unfairness of the system.

The first statement is obvious; the second is false. Perhaps the author is angling for a regular opinion column.

Comments

Would you explain WHY you think the second statement is false?

"But if they oppose capital charges in the case of an alleged Mafia chief, they would undercut their argument that the failure to seek the death of mob boss shows the unfairness of the system."

This statement confuses an argument about the action of prosecutors with an argument about the arguments of death-penalty critics. It is false because critics of the death penalty could oppose capital punishment for this mob boss without contradicting their argument that the prosecutor's failure to seek the death penalty in this case shows that the system is unfair.

The biggest problem with the statement is that it gives an incomplete description of the critics' argument. What they argue is that the discrepancies between how often prosecutors ask for the death penalty when the defendant is white, compared with when the defendant is black, shows that the system is unfair.

So long as prosecutors are asking for the death penalty for minority defendants, their refusal to ask for it when the defendant is white shows the system to be unfair. It's completely irrelevant to this argument whether or not the critics of the death penalty support or oppose death for this particular defendant.

OK- I see what you mean.

Restated in nonacademic English for simpletons like me- death penalty opponents who don't press for the conviction of a white guy can still legitimately argue that the system is screwing minorities. Did I get it right?

The unclarity was not your fault Carey- it was a poorly parsed sentence by the original author. :)