Abolish death penalty

Why does the United States admonish other countries for poisoning and killing their own citizens when it does the same? It’s an important question for Americans to consider as we attempt to liberate foreign peoples from brutal regimes. By maintaining the practice of capital punishment, the United States projects a hypocritical image to the rest of the world. If the United States aspires to champion the cause of moral righteousness, the death penalty should be abolished.

A global minority of only 83 nations retain the practice of capital punishment. From Venezuela in 1863 to Yugoslavia in 2002, most nations have opted to abandon the archaic process. Even the United Kingdom – a close ally of the United States – executed its last felon in 1964. However, since 1976, the United States killed 843 of its citizens, 247 of which – 37 percent of the national total – were in Texas alone, many approved by then Gov. George W. Bush.

Even within this odious group of modern-day practitioners, the United States stands out. According to Amnesty International, only three other nations are documented to execute prosecuted offenders more than the United States – China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Even more deplorable, the United States, unlike China, continues to execute criminals that committed their crimes as juveniles. Only six other nations are known to partake in this practice. In fact, the most recently executed person in the United States, Scott Allen Hain, was a juvenile offender. His recent execution bolsters the U.S. right to claim the dubious distinction of the number one worldwide executioner of juvenile offenders. Why?

Proponents of the death penalty often use religion to validate its use. The proponents argue their actions are morally justified by Judeo-Christian religious doctrine. For example, in 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention – one of the most politically influential religious organizations in the United States – embraced a resolution stating, “God forbids personal revenge (Romans 12:19) and has established capital punishment as a just and appropriate means by which the civil magistrate may punish those guilty of capital crimes (Romans 13:4).” However, in light of the U.S. foreign policy favoring the establishment of secular regimes in places like Afghanistan, this argument dissolves in the face of its own hypocrisy. The United States prides itself on the separation of church and state, an obvious necessity in a religiously diverse society, and therefore, not only should it support the establishment of secular policies abroad, it should exclude religious influence from its own.

Capital punishment does not deter future criminals. Frequently argued to the contrary, this contention quickly evaporates when subjected to basic comparative analysis. For instance, in 1975 the homicide rate of Canada was 3.09 per 100,000 – the highest in its history. The death penalty was abolished one year later. Since then Canada has experienced a steady decline in homicide rates that reached their nadir at 1.24 per 100,000 in 1999 – 43 percent lower than in 1975.

Killing convicted murderers does not save the state money. The coarse argument that killing prisoners is less expensive than housing them is simply false. Although they spend less time in prison than those with life sentences, the cost of repeated court appeals, extended periods of incarceration due to stays by governors and requirements for special facilities promptly dissolve these callous fiscal arguments.

The method of efficient execution is one President George W. Bush seems to embrace. In six years as governor of Texas, he approved more than 130 executions. This approach also creates an added benefit of swift closure to vengeful, victimized families. However, this method has potentially grave consequences. In the last 30 years, 107 inmates have been released from death row on account of their innocence. Many more have been executed with doubts about their guilt surfacing later. Therefore, families wishing for a swift, vengeful closure should not be placed above the cautionary measures of an imperfect judicial system. Furthermore, if the consequences of possibly killing an innocent individual are not great enough to offset the economic costs of cautious deliberation, by placing indolent trust in an often mistake-ridden trial procedure, this nation has certainly entered a time of moral crisis.

As the United States is guided into a brave new world of international moral assertiveness, sanctioned by our present leaders with their neoconservative dogma, it is of vital importance that we reflect on the moral condition of our own society. First and foremost, if the United States continues the barbaric practice of capital punishment, we simply cannot lift ourselves above the ethical standards of the very societies we condemn.