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Breaking from the pack: the death penalty in the United States

| Thursday, January 14, 2016

The debate over capital punishment is like “Whack-A-Mole.” One minute, the media is showing people protesting outside prisons and statehouses, and the next minute, another Donald Trump story. Despite the lack of consistent coverage, the death penalty’s presence in the legal system of the United States is reducing it from a democratic state that values individual liberty to the Babylonian Empire under Hammurabi’s rule.

It does not matter whether the death penalty is classified as a preventative or retributive punishment — the bottom line is that it is inhumane. First, it doesn’t account for falsely accused victims. While our justice system attempts to adhere to the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” the findings of The Innocence Project, an organization that deals with wrongful conviction cases, prove that this is definitely not a fail-safe system. According to The Innocence Project, 20 of the 333 people exonerated through DNA since 1989 served time on death row. That is 20 people that were in danger of being executed because of the results of a faulty test. Even if the ratio was 1 in 333 people incorrectly convicted and sentenced to death, the value of that one human life cannot be overlooked to justify the system.

Nevertheless, if we assume everyone on death row has been rightfully committed, capital punishment still is not a logical course of action. Let’s examine the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013 and received the death penalty in June 2015. While the selfishness of his actions transcends any human vocabulary, the state should not stoop to his level to inflict punishment. Demanding Tsarnaev’s life in repayment for the lives he took neither ends the cycle of violence nor brings real comfort to the victims. Even the family of Martin Richard, the eight-year-old who died in the attack, has called for the death penalty to be dropped since the inevitable appeals process would just bring more grief to the family. Bill Richard, Martin’s father, also told CNN that “Until the day he [Tsarnaev] has come to recognize what he has done, there can be no reconciliation. On the day he meets his maker, may he understand what he has done, and may justice and peace be found.”

Since the implementation of the death penalty clearly does not end the cycle of violence, why is it still around? One of the most famous arguments for this form of settlement is that taxpayers should not be burdened with the costs of housing a convicted criminal on a life sentence. However, this argument has been proven to be invalid. In California alone, the total cost of capital punishment since 1978 has totaled to $4 Billion. This averages to about $308 million per execution, which is over 10 times the total amount of keeping the individual in jail on a life sentence. Therefore, the death penalty obviously does not alleviate the financial burden from the taxpayer.

Today, the list of nations that use capital punishment are ranked in the following order by number of people executed: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United States, Sudan and Yemen. Considering that the United States has consistently criticized every country on this list for human rights violations, should we really be claiming the moral high ground when we too are still punishing people with death? If we as a nation are truly striving to set an example for the rest of the world in regards to an individual’s right to life, no matter the circumstances, we need to evolve from seeking equal retribution to seeking appropriate rehabilitation. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method, which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” Therefore, if the United States desires to truly make a stand against barbaric practices, we as a country need to abolish capital punishment.

For more information on the death penalty, please visit the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Catholic’s Against Capital Punishment, The Innocence Project or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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