Second thoughts about the Lawrence case

The first thought was joyous: the murderers got what they deserved. Then doubts began to creep in, not just about this case but about justice in general. It suddenly occurs to one that the murdering scum didn’t get what they deserve. They deserve to be strung up, and I do know the death penalty is no longer an option. But I’m talking about justice here, not law, and the two don’t always overlap.

The death penalty was never regarded as cruel and unusual punishment in the founding and ultimate code of the West, the Scripture. When society was more than just a figure of politicised speech, the moral validity of the death penalty was never in doubt. It was understood that murder sent shock waves throughout the community, and the amplitude of such destructive waves could only be attenuated by a punishment commensurate with the crime.

Removing the death penalty doesn’t so much assert as diminish the value of human life — by balancing the criminal taking of it against a prison sentence, no matter how long. That is one argument in favour of the death penalty; deterrence is the other. This is in dispute against all evidence, but one thing beyond doubt is that it deters the executed criminal. This is no mean achievement considering that, since the death penalty was abolished in 1965, hundreds of people have been killed by recidivists who had already served their time for one murder.

Since our laws became more merciful than the Bible, the crime (including murder) rate in Britain has shot up to such unprecedented levels that it’s hard not to speculate along the lines of cause and effect. Why did the ancient prophets and kings allow the death penalty, and our secular state doesn’t? Precisely because it’s secular, devoid of any concept of transcendence, committed to life on earth because there is no other. To such a state, and such a nation, there’s nothing worse than death. But to the nation of Cranmer, More, Latimer, Fisher and Ridley, physical death was trivial compared to life in eternity. To them death could be redemptive; whereas continuing an unworthy life could consign one to torture in perpetuity. My argument here isn’t just theological: in the first wholly secular century, the 20th, more people died violent deaths than in all the previous centuries of recorded history combined. Something to ponder there, wouldn’t you say?

And then there’s the racist nature of the murder. Will anyone explain to me why murdering Stephen Lawrence for the colour of his skin was any worse than murdering him for the brand of his trainers? Those degenerates wantonly took a human life — and human life knows no colour. One building block of our civilisation is equality before law, the other is the sanctity of human life, which means that the race of the victim is no more important than the race of the murderer. Such considerations are utterly trivial compared to the soaring enormity of the crime. It’s a bit like a doctor telling a patient that he has terminal cancer — and an in-grown toenail.

Justice — and a civilised community — must be colour-blind. It must also be blind to the human qualities of the victim. There’s no doubt that Stephen Lawrence was a lovely person, but his being lovely is inconsequential compared to his being a person. After all, the commandment says ‘Thou shalt not kill’, not ‘Thou shalt not kill a nice man; but a nasty bit of work thou canst kill.’ When prosecutors and the press carry on about the sterling qualities of the victim, they again cheapen the self-important value of human life. Any human life — that of a star pupil or a truant, of a kind or mean man, of a faithful or promiscuous woman. Their transcendent humanity towers over their incidental traits.

This concerted effort to elevate racial characteristics to a perch where they don’t belong isn’t going to allay racial tensions. It’s going to make them worse, which is the predictable outcome of any institutional meddling on a large scale. But the whole thing about the modern state is that it doesn’t care about the social consequences of its actions. All it cares about is scoring a few PC points in the hope that this will stand it in good stead in the next election. And you know what’s even worse than our politicians’ refusal to think deeply and act courageously? That we let them get away with it.




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