There are no good reasons to retain the death penalty

As if this month weren’t busy enough for legislators in Colorado, between sorting out marijuana DUI laws and new gun regulation measures, among others, is this week tackling another big one: the death penalty. Today Colorado law makers were supposed to vote on the repeal but have postponed it after hearing hours of passionate testimony from individuals on both sides of the issue. Though the issue was brought to a vote several years ago, the death penalty was not successfully repealed because of a single vote. This time it will be just as close, with a repeal being a very real possibility.

Photo by Kate Ter Haar.

Photo by Kate Ter Haar.

For regular readers, it won’t come as a shock to hear that I am against the death penalty. It’s an old debate that’s been explored thoroughly – but here’s my take on the issue and the reason I think the debate against is, by and large, succeeding at glacial speeds (though hats are certainly off to Maryland for repealing the law recently). Let’s cut through the nonsense and look at the real issues here.

The death penalty is traditionally reserved for those perpetrators of the most heinous of crimes, frequently multiple or mass murder. Though no one is going to argue that these are wonderful human beings (assuming they’re guilty, which all too often they are not), they are still human beings. Alright, I know that argument isn’t going to win many people over – and that is profoundly disturbing.

Regardless of the many arguments in favor of the death penalty, there is one and one reason only that the penalty exists in this day and age. One purpose: to exact revenge; a belief that the taking of a life will better another’s (presumably those associated with the victim).

Really think about that for a second. Damn what was repeated to us as almost a mantra as children (“two wrongs do not make a right” we’d be told as we, childishly and immaturely, turn to hit another kid we’d believe had done us wrong). Having studied capital punishment in great depth, I’ve yet to find another argument in support of state sanctioned execution, beyond the childish and grotesque desire for revenge.

To save anyone the time, the death penalty not only executes innocent people, it executes minorities at disproportionately high rates (and sometimes, even minors and the mentally ill). And it’s expensive – substantially more expensive than prison for life.

It's all about the green. Image by Leonardini.

It’s all about the green. Image by Leonardini.

It’s that last point that is often whipped out by death penalty detractors, as a trump card of sorts. It’s often the case that those who support the death penalty are conservatives. And as we all know, for conservatives, money talks. Hit them with the fact that, though it might seem counter-intuitive, it is substantially more expensive to execute someone by the state than to imprison them for the rest of their life, and the discussion is over (because then it’s just about revenge).

And how sick is that? The points I made first – about the documented racism of the death penalty as well as the fact that innocent people do get executed – are apparently not debate changers. No, if anything wins the argument, it’s a point built on money – not facts or compassion. And if that doesn’t win the debate, all that remains left is a passionate desire for revenge, not rationality.

Honestly, I couldn’t care less if the victim’s kin find solace in watching someone put to death. Taking two lives builds nothing new, it rights no wrongs whatsoever. “Violence begets violence” (blast, it’s your Jesus again!) – as it is society, the state, executing a citizen, does that not lower the state to the sociopath’s level? It is the state’s responsibility to protect it’s citizens and in the modern age of the super max solitary confinement the argument that is a necessity of safety is invalid. It’s just murder, nothing less.

I also find this to be another instance where morality becomes a matter of convenience. It is my humble belief that no human is better than any other – and as such, cannot (or rather, should not) have the ability to take the life of another. However, this is not true of everyone in this nation. As I pointed out the other week, Ayn Paul made a big huff out of the hypothetical possibility of the government using drones to strike at an American citizen (but only if he’s on our soil, never mind if he’s in another country, or a minor). Strangely, I have yet to see him or all of the many people applauding him taking a similar stance against the death penalty, which does the same thing, the only difference is that it’s done in front of an audience for their pleasure. Maybe if Obama were somehow introducing the death penalty, then it’d suddenly be a heinous act of state control.

This is where my posts keep coming back to, lately: Where’s the empathy? Why is a desire for violent revenge allowed to persist in our nation, one of the only in the industrialized world to still perform executions of its citizens? It’s selfishness, manifested in yet another aspect of our society.

It’s cruel, and it’s unusual (for so-called Constitutionalists, you’ll have to read past the

A great place to spend decades wondering when you'll be put to death. Photo by pwbaker.

A great place to spend decades wondering when you’ll be put to death. At least you’re not in Utah. Photo by pwbaker.

Second Amendment, it’s in the Eighth) by most measures – it has become an all too common story where a death row inmate spends decades being told that “at the end of the month” he’d be executed, to only have it postponed, until suddenly one time the state goes through with it. Some states have even resumed executing people by firing squad.

Ending another’s life will not bring back the deceased. Though the kin of the victim may believe they’ll find solace in seeing the vile human who took their loved one from them, there’s plenty of debate whether this really happens. I’m inclined to believe that any action done out of hate or a need for revenge, rather than empathy, will, necessarily, benefit no one.

If you live in Colorado contact your representatives and tell them how you feel. (Thanks to Victor S. for the link.)