Monday, November 28, 2005


Chimes Article Here

State-sponsored murder is unjust

“Murder in a uniform is heroic, in a costume it is a crime.” -- Abbie Hoffman.

With the growing controversy surrounding Mumia Abu Jamal, the death penalty issue is once again in the public eye, as well it should be. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 576 people have been murdered by the U.S. government. During this time, the death penalty has become increasingly unpopular internationally. Since 1989, over 25 countries have abolished the death penalty, leaving only 39 countries worldwide that still practice it. Yet, the United States has only increased its number of executions. So far, 74 people have been executed in 1999, the most ever since reinstatement. Even worse, the United States is one of the top 10 countries, along with Iran and China, in terms of the number of executions. Further, the United States is one of only six countries that executes juveniles and has executed over half of the juveniles executed in these countries since 1990. The United States also executes mentally ill individuals, in violation of international standards.

Despite the obvious moral implications associated with the death penalty, a screaming question Mumia Abu Jamal’s case has brought to the forefront is: Can our judicial system handle the death penalty?

Of course, cases like Mumia Abu Jamal’s, where an innocent man is sentenced to death, are extremely rare and mostly limited to the movies, right? Not so, according to Amnesty International, which estimates that since the turn of the century, as many as 23 people have been wrongfully executed.

Not only that, but the imbalance in the application of the death penalty is staggering. Of the people prosecuted for the death penalty between 1988 and 1994, nine out of 10 were either African American or Hispanic.

Over the past 20 years, approximately 80 percent of the people sentenced to death were charged with killing a white person, despite the fact that whites and blacks are murdered with equal frequency. What is worse, African Americans are statistically four times as likely to receive the death penalty than whites for similar crimes.

Economic bias is just as sickening as racial bias. Of those sentenced to death, 98 percent could not even afford their own attorney.

Besides all of these reasons, the death penalty is extremely unpractical. By the time all the appeals have been exhausted, it costs the taxpayers three times more money to execute someone than to pay for life imprisonment.

California spent $90 million on executions last year. Perhaps this money could have been better directed toward attacking the causes of crime.

Suppose we discount the above evidence for a while, and imagine we are in a dream world. The death penalty is used fairly, no innocent people are killed, and we streamline the process a little bit so that it costs the taxpayer nothing. In this dream world, is the death penalty justifiable?

Well, for one thing, the death penalty is pointless. As Amnesty International points out, “The death penalty has NEVER been shown to deter crime more effectively than other punishments.” Secondly, part of the purpose of the criminal justice system is to reform criminals. The death penalty is lacking in this regard.

In the words of the dalai lama, “My overriding belief is that it is always possible for criminals to improve and that by its very finality the death penalty contradicts this.” In fact, the only purpose the death penalty serves is that of revenge, and our criminal justice system should not operate on revenge.

There are also the moral problems with the death penalty. Do we as a society have the right to kill people, or is this something reserved for God alone? The death penalty is hypocritical. It says, “We as a society are so appalled by what you did that we must respond by doing the same thing.” This kind of message makes no sense.

Furthermore, as a Christian, I believe life is a gift from God, and it is not something we have the right to take away. Yes, in the Old Testament, God did command the Israelites to kill various people, but those were commandments directly from God.

We should be cautious before assuming from these isolated incidents that God has given us control over life and death. On the contrary, I believe that since Jesus died for everyone, we have no right to play with a life that he has already purchased. “Vengeance is mine,” says God. Apparently the United States is more than one nation under God; it is one nation that is God.

Finally, the death penalty contributes to a culture of violence already imbedded in our society. We, as a society, complain frequently about violence in the media, but if institutional violence were given as much attention, perhaps conditions would actually improve.

The death penalty is not the sole instance of institutional violence, but it is part of the structure. Should we be surprised that violence is so prevalent in the streets when we help create it? Should we be surprised at the current murder rates when we as a society endorse murder? The message the death penalty sends is clear: Life is not valuable.

The death penalty is legal in 38 states. Of these states, 23 allow juvenile executions. As long as we support this, we are only contributing to a culture of institutional violence. We should be extremely careful with the death penalty. Cases like Mumia Abu Jamal’s may not be as rare as we think.

(Original Word Document: drive, docs, pub)

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