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Death Penalty: Civilized Punishment or State-Sanctioned Murder?

Those who support the death penalty argue that it’s a deterrent, that it’s reasonable retribution, that certain killers deserve it, that it’s religiously mandated, that it’s the law, that it has procedural safeguards, and that it’s founded on the fair notion of “an eye for an eye.” Those who oppose it respond with the following.

If it’s based on deterrence, why is it that the South, which has the highest murder rate in the country, also has the most death penalty executions at 80 percent, while the Northeast has the lowest murder rate but only one percent of the executions? And why do nearly 90 percent of past and current presidents of the country’s leading criminal law academic societies agree that it’s not a deterrent.

If it’s reasonable retribution, why do many, if not most, of the proponents constantly scream for revenge? And, by the way, aren’t we — i.e., the civilized members of society — better than the sociopathic killers who kill to get their way? And isn’t the notion of killing killers to show that killing is wrong rather hypocritical?

If certain killers deserve it, why don’t all of those “certain” killers get it? In other words, a person could commit a single capital-type murder in one of the 34 states that has the death penalty and he or she would be executed. But another person (or that same person) could commit ten capital-type murders in one of the 16 states that does not have the death penalty and he or she could not be executed.

If it’s religiously mandated (at least by the three faiths with the most adherents), how does a proponent justify the destruction of what God, Allah, Jehovah, etc. created? In other words, since we as humans can only procreate — and not create — how can the killing of the Creator’s creation be explained, especially in light of the fact that such killing is not the result of the sort of on-the-spot deadly self-defense that is necessary in response to an imminent threat? And because the death penalty is not the result of such immediate self-defense, isn’t an execution sinful for believers and unethical or immoral for non-believers?

If it’s the law, wasn’t slavery and Jim Crow the law? And wasn’t the execution of kids the law until 2005 when the U.S. Supreme Court finally outlawed it? As a matter of fact, wasn’t the execution of 22 persons since 1976 for crimes they committed as children the law?

If there are procedural safeguards, why is it that since 1973, more than at least 130 factually innocent persons (including six in Pennsylvania) were arrested, charged, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death with those sentences upheld many times on appeal? Why was it necessary for zealous and persistent defense attorneys — over the strenuous and repeated objections of the prosecutors — to fight tooth and nail to finally persuade some judges for reversals shortly before the scheduled executions? What if those lawyers had not been so zealous? What if they had not been so persistent?

By the way, do the proponents deny the racism and the classism of capital punishment? If so, how do they explain the fact that while African Americans constitute approximately 12-14 percent of the national population, they make up 35 percent of the death row population. Moreover, how do they explain the fact that 98 percent of the chief District Attorneys in death penalty states are white and only one percent black? And why is that while the poor constitute about 11-13 percent of the country’s population, they are about 90 percent of the death row population?

Finally, if it’s founded on the fair notion of “an eye for an eye” which means that we kill killers, then why don’t we rob robbers or kidnap kidnappers? Even better, why don’t we rape rapists? Yeah, that’s it. In the very same way that our tax dollars are used to pay a state employee to kill someone through lethal injection, why don’t we hire and pay a state employee to sexually penetrate a male or female who was convicted of rape? Savage, you say? Barbaric, you say? Uncivilized, you say? Exactly, I say — just as savage and as barbaric and as uncivilized as the death penalty.

Oh, I almost failed to mention why many opponents refer to capital punishment as “state sanctioned murder.” Well, the governor approves it, so it’s state action. And murder is defined in Pennsylvania as a premeditated (i.e., planned) and unjustified (i.e., done in the absence of an imminent threat to life or limb) killing, especially when a deadly weapon (i.e., lethal poison) is used on a vital body part (i.e., veins) of a human being.

Maybe we should take a step back and rethink the merits of executing fellow human beings? Or maybe we should just continue to mindlessly and heartlessly kill ’em all.