Filming an execution at San Quentin Prison is what San Francico’s KQED has asked the U.S. District Court in California for permission to do: it wants the unedited tape to run nationwide over the Public Broadcasting Service network.
KQED is not doing this merely to get higher audience ratings. It thinks that once people see what an execution is like, support for capital punishment will wane. Michael Schwartz, director of KQED’s current affairs department, says, “We want the camera to be a neutral witness. The camera can do what no other medium can do, and that’s to bring the viewer to the event in an unmediated way.”
True. In turn, KQED will want to show the other side of the story, too. To get the other side, KQED ought to ask various police departments in this country to supply the films they have of the victims of capital crimes. Then when there’s a showing of an execution, viewers will also see the victim of the crime, say, the mutilated corpse of a rape atrocity or some adolescent whose arms were hacked off, or the scantily clad casualties of the midnight strangler. Take the Willy Horton problem and the many kindhearted people like Michael Dukakis who think criminals shouldn’t be put away in some solitary confinement as if they were savage jungle beasts. Why shouldn’t KQED show police films of Willy Horton’s victims? The camera could show the viewer his crimes in, to use Michael Schwartz’s phrase, “an unmediated way.”
I’m sure police departments will also supply films to the Public Broadcasting Service network and KQED of a murdered policeman’s family mourning their loss. In keeping with KQED’s sense of justice and fair play, the station might also want to show the awful condition of criminals who have been sentenced to life imprisonment, paired with, again, films of the victims of these jailed criminals.
KQED’s idea to show executions and my idea to show how it all began before the murderer entered the death chamber could be a useful test for the pros and cons of capital punishment. First, you see the decomposing body of a molested six-year-old girl in some thicket being identified by her horrorstricken parents, and then you watch the execution of the convicted murderer. Without emotion you then tell KQED what you think of capital punishment.
It would be particularly valuable to show the victims of mass killers who had been released after serving short prison terms, who then went out and murdered again. The families of the second series of victims might be asked to give their views as the execution proceeded.
Lots of luck, KQED, as you proceed with your noble project.
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