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An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and murder for murder; The thirst for vengeance blinds the beast, the taste for it still on its lips. Bloodstained hands claw viciously for its next victim. It is desensitized of all mercy and forgiveness, and once caught in its grasp, fate determines whether it gobbles you whole or spits you out—whether you are tasty enough. Thousands have been made victim and even more wait in torture for vengeance to be acted upon them by the system—the condemnation to death for their crime.
Death Penalty supporters justify the condemning of a person to death for a crime to set an example, to send out a warning to all those planning to commit the same crime, scaring them with the possibility of a punishment of death. They believe these actions benefit our nation, lowering the overall rate of crime. They also, specifically, believe that when a criminal commits a homicide, taking the life of their victim, the criminal automatically forfeits the right to their own life, which, obviously, should be taken as punishment (Bowman).
We kill people, who kill people, to show that killing people is wrong?
A life for a life; The fair trade of justice? What about human error, the many social and racial biases, and the great inconsistency among state governments? How fair can this justice truly be?
Death penalty legislation states that the crime of murder is punishable by death, but isn’t putting a criminal to death murder as well? Doesn’t that mean that the government is a mass murderer, killing over a thousand people and continuing to do so? Proponents may argue that it is worth it to remove these dangerous people from society; however, the number people erroneously sentenced may come as a shock. Since the late 1900s, over 200 people, after serving jail time, have been exonerated due to improved DNA testing yet countless more have been innocent and killed. Collectively, innocent citizens have served over 2,475 years in prison for crimes they did not commit (Ballaro). Death is a final punishment, there is no way to reverse it. It is bad enough that innocent citizens are wrongly condemned, losing years of their lives. But if then they are wrongly put to death, where do you find justice?
Factors contributing to false accusations are disturbing. Justice is not blind; Racial discrimination and other various biases mar the system. Statistics show that those who kill white people are much more likely to receive a death sentence than those who killed a person of another race. More specifically, black people who kill white people have the greatest chance of receiving the death penalty (Ballaro).Think about it. It’s easier to be put to death, rendered as unworthy of life, because of the color of your skin? Have we learned nothing from our history?
Social standard also plays a major role in death penalty convictions. As of 2007, of the some 3,350 people on death row, nearly all of them are impoverished and belong to minority groups. More than 40% are African American (Ballaro). As a result of many of their financial situations, they are unable to acquire adequate council. When this is the case, the defendant is provided with a government employed attorney, who sometimes cannot even remember their name. More often than not, these attorneys supply little help to their clients, putting up no fight for their innocence. However, Bryan Stevenson, one of the most celebrated anti-death penalty lawyers in the world, is quite the opposite. He believes in putting forth his full effort in each case regardless of color or status. He says, “I felt that I had to help people who are rejected by society the way death row prisoners are rejected by society. I had to represent them especially since I believe that most people who end up on death row are there because they are poor and they are black. It’s their identity, not their crime, that puts them on the row”(Kuklin). These people are still people-human beings who are capable of remorse.
The most upsetting and unfair issues of the death penalty are the inconsistencies within the Judicial system. In certain states there is legislation that permits a judge to impose the death sentence if only 9 of 12 jurors are in favor of it, where in other states there must be a unanimous vote of jurors (Ballaro). The final decision can be made by one man who may allow his biases to affect his verdicts. Biases of juries have also interfered with verdicts. According to the 6th amendment, each citizen has the right to a fair and speedy trial by an impartial jury. Yet, Napoleon Beazley, a 17 year old boy in Texas, was being charged for the murder of the father of a Federal Judge, and friend of 3 Supreme Court justices. The victim’s son, the judge, was present at the trial and had previously offered to assist the prosecutor. A witness accounted that, “During the trial, the judge sat there and eyeballed Napoleon…to the point where one of the deputies would stand between them. There was so much hatred in that courtroom…this case was not fair,”(Kuklin). Because of the victim’s high status in the court society, biases heavily weighted the verdict of capital punishment for a 17 year old black boy.
When considering enforcement of the laws, it might be assumed that the laws are the same throughout the nation. Of course murder is against the law in all states, but how it is enforced is not. For example, if you are charged with murder in Arizona you very well may receive the death penalty, however, in Maine that would not be possible for capital punishment is not practiced. If our country is not consistent in enforcing a punishment, how can the punishment be considered definitively right or wrong.
The question of whether the death penalty is constitutionally correct or not has been debated back and forth since the early 19th century. It was outlawed in 1845 by the federal government, then ruled constitutional in 1879. Over the next several years, debate on regulation and guidelines occurred. About a hundred years later, in 1972 The Furman v. Georgia case ruled capital punishment unconstitutional, leading the way for continued debate. The Supreme Court eventually reaffirmed the death penalty as constitutional in some cases. Presently the states are split in ideology regarding capital punishment (“Capital Punishment”). This issue continues to be controversial as it does not have enough support to be completely unanimous either way. If our Supreme Court can not make a final decision then how can the death penalty be allowed in practice?
Disregarding the moral incorrectness and unfair practices of the court system, the death penalty clearly violates the 8th amendment of the United States Constitution, the document on which our country was founded. It states that, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The cruel and unusual punishment clause restricts the severity of punishments that state and federal governments may impose upon persons who have been convicted of a criminal offense (“Capital Punishment”). In the past, methods such as electrocution and gas have been used to kill the convict, which were very painful and did not always kill them instantly.
As seen in figure one, Willie Mae Bragg, the first victim of the first portable electric chair is being prepared for execution. On October 11, 1940, Bragg became one of the victims not killed instantaneously. He was shocked with 2,300 volts, then after inspection was found not to be dead. Bragg then had to be shocked again to finally terminate his life (“U.S. First Electric Chair”). More recently, lethal injection has been introduced, and is believed to be painless. It is not. The same concoction of drugs were once used for the euthanasia on pets, but have been banned by the American Veterinary Association because they were too painful (Kuklin). Prisoners are treated as animals yet animals are more protected.
The death penalty is a punishment of vengeance. It is morally indefensible, unfair in practice, and unconstitutional. It is an issue that is not always at the forefront of peoples minds or the media. We as citizens, are satisfied with others doing the dirty work of executing “guilty” prisoners for heinous murders, but if you were asked to flip the switch, stick the needle, and watch these human beings die could you do it? These prisoners are seen as a number in a cell block, in which their humanity is not preserved. Even if capital punishment was a deterrent on crime, which it is not, so what? On an individual basis is it right, moral? If you knew these people and got to know them, would you still agree they need to die? They are not just a number or a statistic, they are given no sensitivity every human being deserves. You can help these people. They need your help. Keep just one man, possibly one falsely accused, in mind next time you go to vote for a representative. Choose the representative who will be a step closer to a just United States. Realize the power of your voice and take hold of the reigns of the vicious beast of the judicial system.