Arresting fusion of memoir and jeremiad, arguing for a punitive approach toward the worst perpetrators of social violence, amid a general overhaul of attitudes toward criminality.
Blecker (New York Law School), subject of the aptly titled documentary Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead, terms himself a “retributivist,” one who advocates “relating a criminal’s moral blameworthiness to the punishment he deserves.” He believes that in the morass of contradictory arguments regarding crime and violence since the Supreme Court’s 1972 Furman decision invalidating state death penalty laws as inconsistent, we have forgotten that when the most depraved pay the most severe penalties, the social contract is strengthened. Blecker spent 12 years interviewing imprisoned murderers near Washington, D.C., and he shows them a surprising degree of empathy: “Searching for genuine remorse among convicted killers these decades, I found it rare but real.” He believes such popular legal distinctions as “felony murder” have made incoherent notions of culpability, so that a drug murder may be regarded similarly as the actions of sadistic serial killers or rapists who murder their victims. While he respects the views of death penalty abolitionists, the author repeatedly counters their arguments with real-world examples concerning both horrific crimes and the disturbing observation that the most vicious criminals often have the most privileged circumstances in prison, the scary sound of “life without parole” notwithstanding. Given that he recognizes that abolitionists are gaining ground in many states, he advocates for “permanent punitive segregation,” “a more restrictive quality of life inside…a perpetually unpleasant punishment of life.” Blecker is unapologetic regarding his determination to avoid sophistry in considering the context of social violence. While fascinated by the “street code” of the career criminals he met, he feels bottomless contempt for the likes of mass murderers Anders Breivik and James Holmes.
While many will dismiss his viewpoint, Blecker presents a strong case with legalistic rigor on some of the darkest questions facing society.