We need the death penalty to keep us safe… Really?

To hang. Not to hang. To hang. Finally hung. The case of Kho Jabing is now finally closed. Kirsten Han, a journalist and human rights activist, posted this “tribute” to Kho Jabing on Facebook.

People have criticised her for “romanticising” Kho Jabing’s life. Yes. Kho Jabing is a human being. He has his story. What about the victim? There isn’t much about Cao Ruiyin online. But he is definitely someone’s son. Perhaps someone’s husband. Perhaps someone’s father. Did any of that matter to Kho Jabing? Did that stay Kho Jabing’s hand?

No. Kho Jabing bashed Cao Ruiyin’s skull, inflicting 14 fractures. Can you imagine the brutality? The violence? To bash someone’s head in to the extent that you cause 14 fractures. Kho Jabing couldn’t have just landed a single blow. He must have violently rained down blow, after blow, after blow on Cao Ruiyin’s skull to have inflicted that damage.

Despite the best efforts of doctors, fighting desperately to save his life over six days, Cao Ruiyin died. Cao Ruiyin came to Singapore for a better future. Not just for himself. But also for his family back in China. In a single, brutal, violent moment, whatever hope for a brighter future for himself and his family back in China was snuffed out.

What if Cao Ruiyin was the sole breadwinner of his family? What if Cao Ruiyin had elderly parents, a wife and children who depended on him for their livelihood? And Kho Jabing took all of that away. What of the tragedy that they now have to live with? All because Kho Jabing was not able to reign in whatever violent rage possessed him that fateful moment.

To some people, they would think that justice demanded that Kho Jabing be executed to balance the scales. After all, an eye for an eye. But some would say that if we always demanded an eye for an eye, then the world would be left blind.

As Daniel Yap of The Middle Ground wrote in this excellent article, it is not surprising that people disagree about what is or isn’t just. In the article, Daniel also explained what a criminal justice system is for: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation.

A death sentence is the ultimate retribution and incapacitation. It leaves no room for rehabilitation. Is that right? Are there crimes so heinous, criminals so cruel and evil that they are beyond any rehabilitation, that the only way society can be protected from these criminals is to have them incapacitated permanently by killing them? If there are, what’s the threshold that must be crossed before we would sentence the person to death?

Another argument to keep the death penalty is that it serves as a strong deterrence. Does it really? To know if it really does, one way is to study countries which have abolished the death penalty. Then compare the rates of homicides and drug abuse  before and after the abolishment of death penalty. If the rates increased significantly, then it would suggest that the death penalty was indeed a strong deterrence. Conversely, if the rates didn’t, then it would suggest that the death penalty wasn’t a strong deterrence of those crimes at all.

I’ve tried to get some data, but I couldn’t find what I needed to make a reasonable conclusion. I hope that the government or some research institute would do a comprehensive study of the many countries which have abolished the death penalty. Make the findings of the study public. That would provide a stronger basis for a more robust discussion on this matter.

At this point, with whatever I can find, I think that we cannot definitively conclude whether the death penalty really IS a deterrence that we need to resort to. So… do we really need the death penalty to keep us safe? 

[Featured image: from freemalaysiatoday.com]

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3 thoughts on “We need the death penalty to keep us safe… Really?

  1. Personally I want the death penalty to remain in some form, as I feel there are criminals/terrorists out there too dangerous to be released, and to imprison all of them for life, well, some states may not be able to afford it, and even if so I don’t see why the taxpayers have to be made to pay for it, particularly if its a criminal who has already caused huge damage to the community at large.

    But I reject the notion that lawyers like Jeanette Chong are appealing for Kho Jabing for political purposes. They are lawyers, and why we have an appeal system, plus defense lawyers, is to ensure everyone gets a fair trial.

    I definitely am turned off, however by the moral posturing of Kirsten Han and her group of activists. It is bordering on nauseating, what she came up with. The pity is that there is some possibility for her cause to be partially fulfilled here. Our laws could indeed be moderated to lift the death penalty on drug mules, for instance. But Kirsten has basically disgusted many people with what shes been posting, rightly so, but for an activist, this is what you do not want to do.

    And this is symptomatic of the many civil rights activists here. They pale in comparison with activism in other areas like LGBT and nature/green living, benefits for single mothers, etc. Those two areas have been relatively successful at least to me The civil rights people however fail to realize its about selling one’s cause to the unconverted. Their melodramatic overkill and routine championing of the worse examples out there do more damage to their cause than help it, especially if they find they need to keep mum or change their tune later on. Just look at Amos Yee for instance. A year ago this same crowd was bleating relentlessly in his support to the extent of glorifying him. A year later, same offence committed, the boy is arrested again, and where are all these supporters? All keeping quiet, with one or two even suggesting he deserved it this time.

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  2. Pingback: Daily SG: 24 May 2016 – The Singapore Daily

  3. Death penalty is for 2 reasons (1) fulfil the revenge criteria in justice system for the victims, and (2) pragmatic reason — cheap relatively to life imprisonment (especially hanging — no fancy equipment or drugs needed).

    As for deterrence or “to keep us safe”, death sentence — at least the way it is practised today — does not work. Why?!?! Becoz justice not only must be done but it also must be SEEN to be done.

    Sure, sinkies know certain crimes come with mandatory death penalty — guilty –> hang ASAP. No questions asked. And there will always be high profile cases being publicised in the news to remind the masses. But exactly how many hangings over the last 20 years and for what specific crimes?!?! 99.99% of sinkies don’t care & don’t know. Sinkies don’t even know how the hangings look like, or how the condemned look like after hanging. The death sentence is something vague & remote and definitely not uppermost on peoples’ minds when they commit heinous crimes. This is compounded further in murder cases committed in moments of passion (blind fury or panic).

    If you change the death penalty to one where you chop off both arms & both legs & cut out their tongues, and leave them in the streets to fend for themselves (live, die, starve, beaten to death — their own bloody problem), then you’ll have a visceral reminder for the masses on the ultimate punishment for certain crimes.

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