April 2016: Risesponding to the Death Penalty

Art by Nysha

Art Consultant: Victoria

Riseponds is a series where a group of Risen members are picked not based on viewpoints but solely by "first come first serve" to speak on a topic that they're passionate or apathetic about. The randomness serves so readers can get different viewpoints from different people with different experiences or similar perspectives from different people. With the randomness comes the surprise of how contrasting or similar Risen members think when it comes to a certain topic.

The topic for this month is the use of the death penalty in the criminal justice system. This topic is intriguing due to the variety of viewpoints pertaining to it; some people are "pro-death penalty", some are entirely against it, and many can be categorized somewhere in between.

Sam: The death penalty offers a quick and frankly, efficient way out for those who’ve committed extreme horrors to leave this world. While it may seem harsh, being deprived of a “real life” complete with social, cultural, and interactive aspects could be, for many, a more suitable punishment for individuals who’ve done the unthinkable.  Life sentences, or years-long sentences would force people to really evaluate what they’d done and possibly find it within themselves to repent for what they’d done and try to find better, more positive ways to live out their lives. Certain jails even offer reading, writing, and skill-learning programs that inmates can utilize to try to improve their situation if/when they’re released from prison. The death penalty is also considered to be humane, yet many prisoners have faced extreme pain and hardship in the last moments of their lives due to an improper balance in the chemical injections used, or by a malfunction of the electric chair, resulting in harsh burns and great suffering in the final moments of life. While many would argue that the death penalty presents a more efficient, proper way to get rid of some of the world’s most violent criminals, the reality is that other, more ethical and fitting options are available to deal with these criminal offenders.

Zainab: In my opinion, the death penalty is an inhumane and cruel act of punishment that should be abolished everywhere in the world. I think it’s hypocritical to say that killing someone is the worst crime imaginable and to then go ahead and kill the killer, that gives you no moral high ground over the criminal themselves. The death penalty is also incredibly ineffective; a convicted murderer should be given a life sentence where they have no freedom whatsoever rather than the option of an easy and quick way out, to me this seems unfair to the victim of the crime. And there is also the fact that you can’t be sure whether someone is innocent or guilty and as the death penalty is irreversible, you could be executing someone who is entirely innocent and this should be enough to put anyone off the death penalty. The idea that capital punishment is an effective deterrent is wrong; violent crime rates are higher in states where the death penalty is in practice so it seems very counterintuitive. I think the death penalty should definitely be abolished in all countries. To quote Gandhi, ‘an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’.

Berjean: I don't really agree with the death penalty. If anything, I feel like it's an easy way out for the prisoner. It's also a form of cruel punishment, in my opinion. It's a human rights violation (eighth amendment). I understand that there arethere're cruelreally bad people who deserve to be givenput on the death penalty, but there are better ways to handle them in order toto ensure thatmake sure they understand what they did was wrong;- the death penalty would really just be an easy waythe easiest thing for them to escape their inhumane doings. When you read about people's last words before they get killed by whatever method that is chosen for them, some of them just don't even care. They give off this careless vibevibe that it doesn't matter to them- they really think this is just another useless event, but it's the last thing they'll ever do in their life. There are also people who were put on death row but were actually innocent. Take Ruben Cantu for example: he was a Texan teen alleged of a crime when he was 17 and was put to death in 1993, about 12 years later he was found innocent but it was clearly too late. Another example? Carlos DeLuna, 1989- accused for the stabbing of a clerk and ended up being killed execution style. 20 years later, however, evidence was found proving he was innocent- this evidence wasn't even needed, however, because the actual guilty criminal, Carlos Hernandez, admitted several times that he was guilty of the crime before DeLuna was even determined to be put on the death-row. The death penalty is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, and it needs to be taken out of our prisons.

Ruthie: The death penalty unfortunately hadn’t crossed my mind until about a year ago. I have always said I’m so political, so liberal, yet how could I have been with this monumental idea missing from my causes. In the movie, “Hurricane”, the boxer Ruben Hurricane Carter is depicted by the brilliant Denzel Washington, who was put on Death Row for a crime he didn’t commit, and was later released from prison after years and years of solitude. It’s silly that it took a movie to open my eyes up to the harsh reality of the death penalty, and its racial implications. Take the “Philadelphia Story”, where 83% of those on death row in Philly are African American. A study in the early 80’s found that Blacks in Philadelphia were 3.9 times more likely to be sentenced to the Death penalty than any other race. Isn’t there something more than unsettling about that? Isn’t any form of capital punishment, especially death at the hands of the government, largely unsettling and contradictory to the very pillars of our nation’s democracy? We condemn violence, torture, and the use of force in the justice system, yet rely on a fatal tool for seeking it. When people are put on death row, and then executed, we are saying that it is okay for the same crimes to be committed, except against the “bad guys”. In the end, we are all bad guys if we continue to let this happen.

Victoria: The death penalty is not only immoral, but unconstitutional, and should no longer be practiced. Inequality plays a major role in death sentences and 98% of prosecutors responsible for the death penalty are white. With such a large racial bias against minority groups, how can we ever ensure that the death sentence is being given on a solely subjective basis? According to the North Carolina Department of Correction, 86% of their death row population is African American. This racial bias, in addition to other problems such as classism and ableism play a major role into unjust death penalty sentences. If one is uneducated or poor, they cannot learn the ins and outs of our justice system or higher a successful lawyer that does know these things. Our judicial system cannot and should not enforce the death penalty knowing how vast the bias is towards underprivileged minority groups.

Nysha: There are a lot of things at play here. But the main thing I can summarize: the efficiency of the justice system and the competence of law enforcement.

There are 4 outcomes to this formula:

  1. Both are fulfilled with the death penalty in place
  2. Neither are fulfilled with the death penalty in place
  3. Both are fulfilled without it
  4. None are fulfilled without it

If a country falls under 1 or 3, then we should let them be. Whatever floats their boat. If a country falls under 2 or 4, or was 2 and became 4, then the possibility of corruption in that country is very high. These countries are more likely to carry out the executions themselves (ie, hire hit-men), with the masterminds fleeing the country for decades at a time, leaving broken families that will never get justice for their loved ones. Keeping the death penalty is still worth it just in case the criminal is captured at last.

If Canada’s murders decreased by 44% after the abolishment of capital punishment then kudos to them. They have an efficient legal system that works well. But if the crime rate in the countries that practice it (ie, Singapore) is as low or meets the quota of a low-crime rate, then I believe they should keep it; that’s what works for them. But as for other countries trying to find this balance, abolishing the death penalty should not be the first thing they do. Start from the ground up: From the quality of subsidised lawyers, eradicating racial biases among institutions, to the processing speed standards.

Joy: I believe that the death penalty is an unethical and outdated form of punishment. First of all, the system is unreliable. Of the 15,000 - 17,000 homicides committed in the U.S.A, approximately 120 people are sentenced to death, or 1%. People with mental illnesses may not be able to participate in their trial in any meaningful way or may appear cold and revive no sympathy from the jury. Some have even been forcibly medicated in order to make them seem competent to be executed. Race also plays a part in the death penalty, as well. A study taken in October 2002 showed that 12 people were executed in cases where the defendant was white and the murder victim was black, compared to the 178 black defendants executed for murder against white victims. Capital punishment also does not necessarily deter crime. In our country, states without the death penalty have a lower murder rates than neighboring states with the death penalty. The death penalty is also costly and a waste of government money that could be used to fund things like counseling to the families of the murder victims.

Shamya: It is 2016 and the United States is currently the only western country practicing the death penalty. Having executed 202 people from 2007-2012, the U.S.A. is the top 6th country with the most executed people; the top 5 being China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq (respectively). There are 31 states currently practicing capital punishment in the U.S.A. and although the number of prisoners executed has decreased since 1999, human lives are still being taken away. It’s true that most people placed on Death Row have committed horrendous crimes, but it does not justify the denial of simple human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. The rights to life is for ALL humans, so what about the prisoners?
    Another point to note is that drug-related offences can still get you sentenced to the death penalty in over 30 countries. Is execution really the appropriate punishment for having a drug offence? In some countries, if you're condemned of a drug related crime the only sentence a judge can give you is the death sentence. But perhaps the most important thing is that killing someone is irreversible and there have been cases where the person was wrongly or unfairly punished. Ultimately, no government should have the right to give capital punishment because it denies human rights, can be unfairly given, and is irreversible.