Commentaries Police & Fire

Downtown View: Throw Away the Key

I hear someone has decided it’s a good idea to make a movie about that crook from South Boston who murdered people and was on the lam for so many years. That’s even worse than the book a couple of reporters wrote. First of all, we already know the ending. But more important is that such attention feeds the subject’s twisted sense of importance. Why would we ever want to do that?

My plan instead is never to mention the crook’s name. My plan is also never to see the movie or read any more about him. He must be sitting in his cell delighted that people are going to preserve in celluloid (or whatever they use these days) all his evil ways and deeds, flattered by the fame of the actor who will portray him. A better plan would be to stop mentioning him and keep him locked up in some anonymous cell, a forgotten man.

That’s the same reason I abhor the death penalty for the younger brother who bombed the people at the Boston Marathon last year. My plan is to not give him the satisfaction of mentioning his name either.

It’s clear that he’ll go to trial. We’ll have to see his name in the headlines and hear him discussed on radio and television during that phase, even though the guilty verdict is a forgone conclusion.

But if the feds impose the death penalty, we’ll be assaulted with him over and over again as his lawyers appeal, complain, ask for new trials, etc. etc. all at the taxpayer’s expense. He’s another one who should sit in a cell forgotten.

It is obvious why people love the death penalty. That will show those creeps not to do dastardly things. Revenge is also good. Eye for an eye and all that.

But so what? They already have done the dastardly thing, and putting them to death only puts us in league with dictatorships and countries we used to call “banana republics.” It keeps the creepy guys’ names and faces before us for far too long. We need to get on with our lives.

There are more pesky problems with the death penalty. States say they try to find humane ways to do it but they fail. Some states execute people with profound mental ability deficits or people whose crime was committed when they were youths, which seems to stretch the concept of fairness. It costs an arm and a leg to carry out. There is also the contradiction: those states in which the death penalty exists don’t actually succeed in one of the stated goals, which is to deter crime. Texas, for example, a state bent on killing every criminal they can, has a murder rate about four times that of Massachusetts, not counting the people who the state murders.

Then, of course, there are those who are executed who were wrongly convicted in the first place, although we can be pretty sure the crook from South Boston wasn’t and the Marathon bomber won’t be. In death penalty states, minorities are executed more than non-minorities for the same crime. At the end, the whole thing is barbaric, unsophisticated, and medieval, urged on by the most primitive motives, and the states and their executioners seem pathetic.

But that’s still not the main reason I dislike the death penalty, and, in particular, executing high visibility criminals. It continues the high visibility far too long when instead such people should become forgotten with the ignominy they deserve.

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at

One Reply to “Downtown View: Throw Away the Key

  1. So you go from ranting about a film about Jimmy Bulger to another rant about your opposition to the death penalty. I have to assume that you were also against the death penalty for Tim McVeigh who murdered and maimed hundreds in Oklahoma City. Of course, only four people, young people at that, were killed in Boston along with scores of others who lost limbs and still suffer today both physically & emotionally but you go on about the poor kid who is locked up for intentionally creating this havoc. I wonder what your thoughts might be on the fact that the average time served in this country for murder is about 12 years. Yes, 12 years for killing another human being! Do you call that justice?

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