Finding Justice Without Death

In Zone One, there is death written into every page. One death in particular from Zone One has really stuck in my mind — Gary’s death. His death is vivid and violent, and it seems to mark when Zone One falls. I have been pondering an important question: does Gary (and the other characters we have read about in our other novels) “deserve” to die?

Zone One, Clay’s Ark, and Zulus have all shown us that human beings are capable of awful things. In my post about Clay’s Ark, I contemplated what it means to be “human.” I wrote a lot about the car family and how they lose their humanity. All members of the car family die at the hands of Eli and his family (along with Rane and their other victims). Zone One has me wondering: even though the car family lost touch with their humanity, did they deserve to die? Did Gary deserve to die because of the way he treats the (presumed) straggler? And what about in Zulus, when Alice Achitophel and Kevin Peters presumably pull the lever that kills all of humanity? Were they just in that decision? Did all those human beings deserve to die? After all, in every situation, none of them consented to their death; others chose for them.

I feel very conflicted about these questions. On one hand, I think that what Gary does is deplorable. He mocks a woman that he does not know, reduces her to a puppet, and calls her by a slur. I must admit that I was sad to see Gary die because I felt like Mark Spitz cares for him, but he risks his own life by reducing what was once a living human being to nothing but an object for his own amusement. The car family kidnap and torture innocent women and children without abandon, but at the same time are trying to protect their home during the battle between Eli and his family. It is difficult because in these apocalyptic worlds, there seems to be no standard trial and jury process. For example, I find it extremely interesting that in the world Butler creates in Clay’s Ark, people like the car family kidnap and abuse innocent women and children with seemingly no consequences from the law. In Zone One, there are the infamous “no-no cards” from Buffalo, but no one seems to care whether or not the sweepers (or anyone else) actually follow all of the rules on them. In Zulus, there is a government, but they immediately send people who do not conform to their societal rules to camps. Perhaps in these apocalyptic worlds, the only justice for those who mistreat others is death. However, this statement leaves me uneasy: what about the innocent victims who die in the novels we have read?

These issues regarding the ethics of death have me thinking a lot about a similar controversy that is present in today’s world: the death penalty. Although death occurs frequently in the worlds of the apocalyptical novels we read where there is an absence of a standard government, should it in today’s world, where we have a trial and jury process?

Today, 32 US states use lethal injection when a defendant is sentenced to the death penalty. It is important to note that in almost all European countries, the death penalty is not used anymore. Many studies have been done on defendants who were executed by the death penalty. Studies focusing on the race of the victims and defendants have shown striking disparities. For example, researchers found that “in 96% of states where there have been reviews of race and the death penalty, there was a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination, or both.” Other studies found that defendants were more likely to receive the death penalty if the victim was white and that black or Latino defendants were more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants in similar cases. Moreover, since 1973 more than 160 people have been freed from death row due to new evidence that has shown their innocence. This makes me wonder: why is the death penalty still in place in the United States when it is clearly biased against minority groups and has the potential to kill an innocent person?

I think that death occurs so frequently in these apocalyptical novels to show us just how wrong it can be. Why should we bring more death into the world with the death penalty? Although humans commit terrible crimes and need to be held accountable for their actions, I think that there are more humane ways to bring justice to victims and their families without the risk of furthering the systemic oppression of marginalized groups and wrongly killing innocent people. The novels we have read in class this semester have certainly shown us that death can be anything but humane. People like Gary, the car family, and the inhabitants of the twisted world in Zulus did not have to die; there are other ways to bring these people to justice. I hope that one day the United States will abolish the death penalty in every state.

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