I found myself, once again, over at Jonathan Turley’s always compelling and substantive blog, where he’s been writing about the decision to allow an image of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in his orange prison jumpsuit, defiantly raising his middle finger after his arrest. Mr. Turley raises the legal question: was this evidence prejudicial or probative and, by extension, should it have been allowed?
It’s a tough call; one that, given my absolute lack of legal training or experience, I am very comfortable making. However close to the line (and it is very close) the simple fact is that this gesture is how he chose to represent himself–unrepentant and defiant. Separate from the heinousness of his actions, his defiance is almost amusing, coming just hours after he was found cowering in a parked boat. He had scrawled out an equally defiant note with all the usual, juvenile junior jihadist rhetoric—blah, blah, blah.
Let’s not forget how the younger Mr. Tsarnaev had escaped his previous encounter with law enforcement–by engaging in a furious firefight that included home-made bombs and semi-automatic weapons, before fleeing in a stolen vehicle, running over his older brother and dragging his body 25 to 30 feet down the street on the way. I think a raised middle finger is not only a concise and illuminating view into this young man’s soul but quite literally the least of his worries. That said, I’m hoping for life in prison rather than death, because the latter is too easy. This guy wouldn’t last a week in the general prison population, and he’s an infamous mass murderer, making Super Max isolation for the half century or more he’s got left fits the bill. I know a lot of folks are screaming for justice, and I get that. Does it take much to imagine my hands around the neck of a punk-ass like him? Absolutely not–my blood pressure rises each time I see his face in the news.
But I like to think I’m savvy enough to distinguish emotion from reason. I don’t think the hypocritical “it’s bad to kill so we’ll kill you if you do” brand of justice is morally compelling. If the state holds that the taking of life is an unpardonable crime, the state should not take a life as reprisal. That’s not justice, it’s revenge. The death penalty, likewise, does very little if anything to discourage others.
Mr Tsarnaev gave little thought, beyond the abstract, to the fact that he might die for his barbarism. At best, he had whimsical daydreams of fantastical rewards–but it’s not the rewards that inspire monsters like this–it is the notoriety, because the man who raises his middle finger as he did is, at his core, a trembling narcissist. He longs for fame–and that’s how we take him.
These guys, we kill them and they become martyrs. Lock ’em up forever and they’re forgotten–and that’s pretty fine punishment indeed. We lead by example, and they end up as examples to no one.