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Analysis of "Death and Justice: How Capital Punishment Affirms Life" by Edward Koch

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Even though “New York’s history of capital punishment goes back to colonial times, with the second most executions of any state from 1608 to 1972, after Virginia,” “no execution has taken place since that of Eddie Mays in 1963”. Meanwhile, during the time period Edward I. Koch worked as a Mayor of New York from 1978 to 1989, the murder numbers were always high compared to other years from 1965 to 2016 and fluctuated between around 1,600 and roughly 2,300. Therefore, Koch decided to write “Death and Justice: How Capital Punishment Affirms Life” to adopt a stance on the death penalty for crimes of murder.

I believe that he productively employs all three techniques of ethos, pathos, and logos to support his argument in his essay. Even though the ethos technique does not appear much throughout his essay, the author utilizes it to establish and gain the readers’ credibility. Koch (1985) clearly notes his career status “As a district leader, councilman, congressman, and mayor” as a confirmation that he is highly knowledgeable about political issues including the capital punishment. In addition, he also tells the readers about his experience “During my twenty-two years in public service”. This sentence indicates that Koch is skilled at his work of which duty is to consider the citizen’s life. Besides, he quotes “I have weighed the objections carefully and still support the death penalty”. This shows that Koch seriously cares about the problem he argues for. Based on the given information, the readers can place and develop their trust in him, which helps him receive their approval more easily.

Apart from the ethos, Koch makes appeals to emotion through the pathos method in order to attract considerable sympathy from the readers. Firstly, the author mentioned two notable events with “Richard Biegenwald, who was known as the Thrill Killer” and Lemuel Smith “serving four life sentences for murder (plus two life sentences for kidnapping and robbery)” as examples of criminals who reoffend many times. Nevertheless, the first criminal was not executed because “The State Supreme Court overturned the sentence both times”; “Because New York has no death penalty statue,” the other even “has effectively been given a license to kill. The unjust facts harbor the readers’ grievances against lack of strict discipline for severe wrongdoings, specifically no capital punishment as well as compassion for the victims wrongly killed. Koch’s successively employing the updated cases as evidences makes the readers realize the urgency and seriousness of the problems, which increases the effectiveness of the his argument.

Secondly, the author gives an instance of an indirect crime of murder “Kitty Genovese was assaulted and murdered on a street in New York. Dozens of neighbors heard her cries for help but did nothing to assist her”. While reading this part, the readers are infuriated due to the thoughtlessness of such neighbors who may be scared of the murder and only think of their own safety. The happening makes the readers angry with not only the murders but also their negative influence on the society. As a result, this urges the readers to approve the idea of enacting the death penalty which may be a deterrent to criminals. Obviously, this part creates a connection between the author and the readers so that the latter can understand and have similar feeling with the former. Therefore, Koch effectively utilizes those examples to lead the readers’ emotion on his emotion path; thereby, they are gradually convinced by the author. Simultaneously, Koch takes advantage of the logos device to persuade the readers to agree with his viewpoint via reasons and figures.

Throughout the essay, the author began with the opposite opinions and then makes his own counterarguments to each main idea. This method makes the reader realize their inaccuracies and more convinced by him. He continues with the huge numbers “In America the murder rate climbed 122 percent between 1963 and 1980” and “During the same period, the murder rate in New York City increased by 400 percent”. After that, he uses the result of a privilege university “a study at M.I.T” which shows “a greater risk of being murdered in a large American city than being killed in combat in World War II”. With these public figures, the author describes the increasing danger around the readers with no death penalty enacted for crimes of murder. In addition, he spends the following paragraph revealing a series of official statistics: “In 1981, ninety-one police officers were killed,” “seventy percent of those arrested in the cases that have been solved had a previous arrest for murder,” and “In New York City in 1976 and 1977, eighty-five persons arrested for homicide had a previous arrest for murder”. The given numbers, which are detailed and related to the problems of committing crimes again, demonstrate that the level in which the public are in danger will be more and more enormous unless the solution for the murder is radically handled.

Furthermore, Koch (1985) expresses the premises to be against “The death penalty is state-sanctioned murder” well. He uses the content of the law to interpret rights and responsibilities of the individuals and the state. According to it, the execution is one of the rights that “the state has” and “are given by the electorate” but “the private individual does not”. This helps the readers comprehend the essence of the capital punishment which is “the foundation of civilization itself”, which makes them realize that the death penalty is legal and reasonable. All the views above effectively encourage the readers to be on the author’s side, meaning that completely satisfy the author’s expectation. However, there exists a logical fallacy of appeal to authority in Koch’s reasoning. He writes “The greatest thinkers of the nineteenth century – Kant, Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Mill agreed that natural law properly authorizes the sovereign to take life in order to vindicate justice,” “Alexis de Tocqueville, who expressed profound respect for American institutions, believed that the death penalty was indispensable to the support of social order,” and “The United American Constitution, widely admired as one of the seminal achievements in the history of humanity”. Koch utilizes the names of many famous people and thing so that the readers give credence to his argument. Therefore, this supporting idea is not really trustworthy and does not convince the readers. However, the author makes use of the logos rationally enough for the readers to perceive and accept his opinion about the death penalty.

Despite that Koch makes some mistake relevant to logical fallacies, he successfully applies all main devices necessary for an argumentative essay to enlighten his thought about the capital punishment for murder crimes. He uses his credibility and work skill as a politician to draw the readers’ attention and emotion. With the responsibility of a mayor of New York City, he expects the city to become a better place to stay in. Thus, he chooses to prove his point of the death sentence and influence the public’s perspective on it through the essay. I believe that the citizens on the whole are persuaded to approve of Koch’s idea by a variety of reliable information and reasonable rationales mentioned.

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Analysis Of “Death And Justice: How Capital Punishment Affirms Life” By Edward Koch. (2019, September 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 22, 2023, from
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