Death penalty has a cruel past. Why repeat it?

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is advocating a referendum to amend the state constitution to allow capital punishment. To put the issue on the ballot in November, a majority of the Legislature must agree this legislative session. Instead of embracing a message of prevention amidst the Dru Sjodin tragedy, Pawlenty’s call for the death penalty focuses only on retaliation.

There is no sound evidence that capital punishment deters violent acts or makes society safer. In fact, states without the death penalty tend to have lower crime rates than those with. Criminals often commit crimes under altered states of consciousness due to alcohol or drugs, therefore unaware of consequences such as the death penalty. In fact, most criminals never plan to be caught for their crime.

Capital punishment is an extremely costly proposal. In Florida, for example, each capital murder case costs $2.6 million more than a case for life imprisonment. From where will this money come? Funds for education and important social services have been cut to balance our state’s shrinking budget. Will we take more from the safety-net services that help support at-risk youth and prevent them from falling into a life of crime?

The United States stands alone among western developed nations in its retention of capital punishment; instead, it has enjoyed the company of the so-called “axis of evil” and Taliban-governed Afghanistan.

Within the United States, the call for a moratorium on the death penalty is gaining momentum. States with capital punishment are beginning to recognize the inherent injustices

of the death penalty and understand the racist and classist nature of their systems. After 13 people on death row were found innocent, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted the sentences of all 168 death-row inmates to life in prison. This year the U.S. Supreme Court will hear cases about death penalty sentencing.

Minnesota executed its last prisoner in 1906. The procedure went awry, leading to a very gruesome death. At that point, our state realized the cruel and unusual nature of such an institution. Why have we not learned from our tainted history and that of other states?

We are future health professionals. Our calling as doctors, nurses and public health professionals is not qualified by the moral character of an individual; rather, our commitment to protecting health extends to all.

Capital punishment is an act of state-sponsored violence that we cannot support personally or professionally. Instead, we urge our state government to seek preventive measures that build the community up and protect the health of all.

We implore the University community to not be silent on this issue. Call the governor and your legislators to stop this bill in its tracks. Make it known you will not tolerate state-sponsored murder in Minnesota.

Leslie King and Kaz Nelson are co-chairs of the Health Coalition for Nonviolence (HCNV) and Caleb Schultz is the founder and director of HCNV. Send comments to [email protected]