LEXINGTON, KY – I have been passionately against capital punishment for some time now—since around the 2011 release of the West Memphis Three.
The West Memphis Three were three men who were convicted in 1994 while still teenagers themselves of the murder of three young boys in Arkansas. Two were sentenced to life in prison and the third to death. New genetic evidence that emerged in 2007 coupled with longstanding criticism of the police force’s handling of forensic evidence and a legal loophole allowed their release. They’re still listed as felons.
Out of all the reading I’ve done, the only compelling case for the preservation of the death penalty that I have ever read was by a judge who had himself overseen the worst cases imaginable. I believe there are people who deserve to die, but I am human. I am emotional. I am passionate. I believe there are people who have given up their right to live, but that’s a belief.
1. Our system makes mistakes
What I know is that our justice system is fallible—too fallible to be in charge of doling out life and death. Studies have shown that the presence of a death penalty does nothing to deter crime. Meanwhile, innocent individuals are continually being freed from death row as new evidence or new technology arises. Furthermore, it’s been demonstrated that the death penalty is more likely to be given to men of color, usually African American men, in comparison to white men.
2. Race makes a difference
A jury will be more likely to perceive anything a man of color does to be worse than a corresponding crime by a white man. It’s not just that the death penalty goes to innocents, but also that it’s not given out equally. I’ve wondered for a long time why they cover the faces of people who are executed. A little research and turns out that this dates from hanging days and the creation of a “humane” execution—an effort to make both the executed and the crowd more comfortable.
3. Some crimes aren't considered crimes by the time of execution
Then, you would be executed for crimes that no longer exist, that aren’t crimes anymore, because the state acknowledged the existence of an afterlife. Someone who had made their peace with their god had no reason to fear death and so execution was to be done kindly. Now, we only call for executions for the most grievous actions. If we consider someone to have done something so horrendous as to deserve the rarest and most grotesque of punishments, why do they deserve any comfort? Especially in a secular state that as far as it is concerned, is robbing individuals of all selfhood into the future?
Furthermore, if you’re willing to commit a human being to death, you need to be able to watch them die. If you can’t deny someone their humanity right up until their heart stops, be able to watch their body fail in all its gruesomeness—you do not have the right to deny them their humanity by committing them to die. To this day, they cover the heads of those who sit in the electric chair, while a group of lawyers sit in another room and watch a headless humanoid lump burn to death.