Even if you're a convicted murderer who actually did the crime (unlike some convicted murderers on death row), B.J. Hunnicutt doesn't want to kill you. Or even have the state kill you.
Well, I used the name by which actor and activist Mike Farrell (pictured here) is best known -- Hunnicutt from the "M*A*S*H" TV series.
But Farrell continues to speak out against the death penalty, and one day last week I got to hear him talk about this with about 50 high school students at Notre Dame de Sion in Kansas City. My friend Bonnie Haghirian is a teacher there and she invited me to hear Mike's presentation.
Farrell -- in Kansas City to appear in a dinner theater play -- and I think very much alike on this issue. I used to write The Kansas City Star's editorials opposing the death penalty, and I've long thought capital punishment was barbaric and ineffective. Beyond that, it lowers the state and its representatives to and below the level of criminals who committed murder.
"We have a system that is imbalanced," Farrell said, noting how it seems to target poor people and minorities. "And if we're going to have a system that's imbalanced, then it's a system that's unjust. . . .It's a system that is racist, classist and making mistakes."
Indeed, the imperfection of the death penalty system is only one reason to oppose it, though clearly a big one. The fact is we execute innocent people sometimes. And as Farrell told the Notre Dame students, "we're all participants" in the system. Silence, he said, implies consent.
Farrell believes the death penalty in the U.S. -- still available in more than 30 states -- eventually will go away as the U.S. catches up with other nations on this issue. But it won't go away without public expressions of opposition to it by citizens.
One reason he thinks it will disappear is that he said it costs two or three times more to execute a convicted criminal than to incarcerate him or her for life. That seems counter-intuitive, but when you consider the long-term cost of legal appeals and the maintenance of the machinery of death, the reality begins to sink in.
But Farrell called opposition to the death penalty solely for reasons of money "a hideous argument, but there you are."
Another reason to oppose capital punishment, he said, is because it dehumanizes the people who have to do -- or be responsible for -- the killing.
One of the students asked Farrell how we can fix all of this.
"We're not going to change this overnight," he said. But citizens should "say to the president of the United States, say to your member of Congress, say to your governor, say to your senator, 'It's not OK with me that we are killing people."
As teen-agers are maturing and beginning to find their moral compasses in a world that sometimes seems to be run by people with them, this is just the kind of challenging presentation they should be exposed to so they can examine where they stand. This is how young people can begin to live examined lives.
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IT'S CALLED WALKING BY FAITH, NOT BY SIGHT
The papal conclave to elect a new pope will do fine as long as its members adopt the attitude of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who says that "the will of God is not entirely clear." Anyone who thinks he or she always knows the will of God is to be viewed with deep suspicion.