There’s Justice in the Death of Death as Justice

America's past or future?

Connecticut just became the 17th state to repeal the death penalty.   Japan, China, and the United States are the only modern nations that still employ capital punishment.

Most modern nations have banned it outright.  Israel uses it only in extreme cases such as treason and terrorism (understandably).  Even Russia has a de facto death penalty ban.

We share  company with the likes of Iran, North Korea, and Uganda.

(Click to enlarge)

I’ve gone back and forth on the death penalty myself.  I’ve been leaning against it in recent years, but after a little digging on the subject, I have become firm my opposition to capital punishment.

I’m not opposed to it theoretically.  I accept that the death penalty is not justice but state sponsored revenge.  It does not rehabilitate.  It does not deter criminals or affect crime rates.

I’m okay with it–theoretically–based on my gut reaction when I hear about the absolutely horrible things some people do, their total disregard for other people’s lives and humanity.

My problem, however, is with how capital punishment is applied.  For a government to execute one of it’s own citizens there can be no bias and guilt must be proven beyond any doubt whatsoever.  One innocent person being murdered by the government is unacceptable.

So far, we’ve failed (EPICALLY) on both counts.

  • Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence.
  • From 1973-1999, there was an average of 3 exonerations per year. From 2000-2011, there has been an average of 5 exonerations per year.

DNA testing has played a key role in at least 14 of the exonerations.  But there are many cases where DNA cannot help because of the deterioration, misplacing, or destruction of  evidence.

Think about that, over 130 people found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt were later proven innocent. It’s very likely that dozens of innocent people have been executed by the state simply because we do not have the means to prove innocence.

Then there’s bias.  Leaving aside gender and age which are each discussions on their own, race plays a HUGE factor in capital punishment cases.  The race of the victim, the race of the jurors, and even the race of the prosecutors significantly impacts the rate of  death penalty convictions.

Race of the victim in death penalty convictions.

Nationally, people who kill whites are 3 times more like to receive the death penalty than people who kill blacks and 4 times more likely than people who kill Hispanics.  Additionally all-white juries convict black defendants 16% more often than white defendants (in all types of criminal cases).

This is the textbook definition of systematic racism.  If a white man killed a Chinese man, don’t you think the likelihood of a death penalty conviction would change if the Jury was mainly Chinese or mainly white?  What about a black or white jury judging a black panther or a skinhead? If the victim is a 19-year old pretty blonde or a 40-year old migrant worker? It’s naive–or dishonest–to say that bias wouldn’t play a role.

This is an ingrained dilemma.  People are convicted by juries of their peers.  The attitude and mindset of all Americans plays a role.  You would have to “de-prejudice” every single person in America to fix the glitch in the system.  Impossible.

The Unabomber attacks, the Holocaust Museum shooting, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, the 2001 Anthrax attacks, and the 2010 Austin IRS building plane crash were all acts of domestic terrorism carried out by whites.  (This is to say nothing of the 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 153 assaults, 3 kidnappings, 41 bombings, 73 arsons, 383 death threats, and 619 bomb threats carried out against abortion clinics and providers since 1977, a majority of which by whites.)  Yet we didn’t hear a national outcry to have young white males get singled out and searched at security checkpoints.  No one caused a incident because they saw a white guy wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses boarding a plane.

Would it still be the case if all that stuff had been done by Mexican-Americans?

The fact is we’re prejudiced.   We see other people and before getting to know them as individuals we form an opinion based on how they dress, act, and talk.  It’s part of our nature–everyone’s nature.   We continue to combat it and we continue to get better about correcting it.  But we are a long, long way from getting past it.  In fact, we’ll probably have banned capital punishment long before getting beyond all the isms we might have against other people.

And until we do we cannot have a system that is so vulnerable to those biases deciding who lives and who dies.

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Author: therealkenjones

writer, artist, wannabe photographer, recovering Southern Californian...

2 thoughts on “There’s Justice in the Death of Death as Justice”

  1. Similarly to you, I’ve gone back and forth on the issue of the death penalty. And quite frankly, the notion that I was unsettled on it bothered me. Then, several years ago, one evening while volunteering at a local free medical clinic, I shared my frustrations on the topic, and asked the director (whom was a minister) to “give me just one good reason why I should forever oppose the death penalty.” His answer was succinct: “It’s too damn expensive.”

    As he briefly explained, the associated legal costs of mandatory appeals far exceeds the cost of life in prison without the possibility of parole, including the cost of humane healthcare. Using that solitary bit of information, I set about to research the issue using Department of Justice data. What I found corroborated what was earlier stated. In fact, I recollect the DOJ’s findings of a capital case in a small, rural Texas town. Tragically, a murder had occurred in that town. And, as our Constitution demands, justice was by a jury of peers in the locality of the crime. Naturally, the town had borne all associated costs of the entire case, from the initial trial, to the long, drawn-out and seemingly endless appeals. And equally tragically, it bankrupted the town.

    Now, from another perspective (as a man of faith) I had understood some things: That vengeance naturally feels good to the aggrieved, and that people of faith are charged with seeking higher things, to be moving toward the ethereal. So, seeking that menial emotion was groveling in the mud, rather than the search for the holy. As well, to support the death penalty didn’t jibe with supporting a culture of life. In essence, the death penalty is retroactive abortion. When another human being, by and through the state, has the power and authority to literally control a human life – to snuff out the candle of life – we are in peril. Because to possess that power and authority says that either another human being, or the state owns us. And that, my friend, is slavery.

    1. Well put as always.

      I think you also bring up a great point relevant to the larger question of where we are headed as a nation; are we working toward an enlightened (or holy) society where we honestly strive for those “lofty” goals of equality, justice, truth, community, et cetera? Or are we just trying to advance the ideals of profit, revenge, and cultural supremacism?

      I just hope the death penalty opposition here in California makes it clear that we are voting about the system’s effectiveness (or lack thereof) not the morality of the philosophy.

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