We have all heard the phrase “Eye for an eye” from Leviticus before. This is an age-old quote that is clearly older then the Bible itself. It is a statement that is ingrained in Western society and will likely continue to be for some time to come. Our justice system is built on it. The death penalty is a direct example of how extreme this notion goes. This ideal has about run its course though. Western civilization has evolved past these archaic and barbaric foundations of punishment. They don’t work as a deterrent and are just holdovers from another less enlightened time. The death penalty must die.
Depending on where you’re from it can frame the debate about the death penalty. To put this in perspective I need to put out some facts. Maine has not had capital punishment since 1887 it was the third state to abolish it. Michigan is the only state that prohibits it in their constitution. Much of the northeast has either banned it, or simply has not used it as an option. The South on the other hand has been an outspoken proponent of it. In fact the region accounts for 82% of the 1,364 executions since 1976. Virginia and Texas lead the charge with 664, or 43%.
In Texas they wield the death penalty like a third despot. They are the only state that kills more then ten people a year and Texas does not care if anyone thinks otherwise. The state likes to flip a proverbial middle finger at anyone who wants to say something different. With the recent execution of a Mexican citizen they have stirred the pot on an international level.
The man was very likely guilty in any situation. The problem though that Texas broke federal and international law by not informing the man of his right to seek legal council from the Mexican consulate. Regardless of his crime, how can Gov. Rick Perry say it was a fair trial when not all of his rights were afforded to him? Not to mention the evidence of the criminal being mentally ill, but were talking about Texas they don’t care who they kill, as long as they’re killing someone.
Do you know how old the youngest person to be executed by a state was? Or how about where the execution took place? Here’s an easy one; do you know the color of his skin? I’m sure you can also venture a guess as to what the victim’s skin was. In proper order the answers are 14 years old, South Carolina, black, and white. I think the only surprise here is the age. Everything else is pretty standard fare for 1944. This was Jim Crow era justice. The boy’s trial and guilty verdict took all of two hours and he was executed within months. The family has been looking for some kind of justice recently in the still racially charged state. There is no existing evidence or records from the police, but what we know of the times how can we call the reality justice? Even now, we place the lives of people in the hands of possible prejudice. While the justice system itself is often viewed in a manner as infallible, the truth is that it is operated by people and with people comes human error.
In 2011 Illinois abolished the death penalty in its state. This after the legislature had put a moratorium on it ten years earlier. The reason is that it had come to light over time that the state had condemned thirteen innocent men to death through the years. In a decision that has such high stakes mistakes can be made. Something that seemed so sure. Illinois realized just how big of a problem this is and corrected their course in a moral direction.
When looking around the world the United States is only one of a few countries left that has not banned the practice. There are only forty countries that still use capital punishment. Those few who are in our category include Somalia, Iran, China, and Vietnam. With the exclusion of Japan, many of closest allies, and countries that are closest ideologically, have banned it outright. Even Russia has not used it in more then ten years.
It is clear capital punishment’s days are numbered. Even the manufactures of the drugs lethal injection have conspired against the practice by banning the sale of their product to any prison system. Instead of killing people, it is past time to kill the death penalty.
ILLUSTRATION BY JESSICA BAKER