November 19, 2006

Elaboration No. 2: The Death Penalty

There isn't much that annoys me more than hearing people equate abortion and the death penalty, as though they are morally and logically equivalent.

I respect people who believe that taking a life is never appropriate or justified, but I disagree. Like it or not, the human race is not that different from jungle animals. Two-legged and four-legged predators alike look for anything they see as weakness, passivity, or fear in potential victims. Predatory humans don't believe in your rights, your dignity, your worth. Some are determined to destroy life in the most devastating and savage ways.

In a civilized society, all participants are obliged to respect certain communal rights, especially the right to physical safety for all community members. If you willfully and mercilessly deprive others of life, then you willingly forfeit your own right to live among the rest of us--and that may include forfeiting life itself. The following quote, attributed to the U.S. Supreme Court, expresses it this way:

"... the decision that capital punishment may be the appropriate sanction in extreme cases is an expression of the community's belief that certain crimes are themselves so grievous an affront to humanity that the only adequate response may be the penalty of death."

That being said, it's even more egregious for a government to execute innocent citizens. I used to believe that it was virtually impossible for an innocent person to make it all the way to execution. I was wrong. From 1973 through 2006, 123 death-row inmates were exonerated. Furthermore, analysis of death penalty statistics demonstrates a disturbing racial bias. So, while I firmly believe that the concept of the death penalty is morally justifiable, our administration of it has been grossly unjust.

The hard facts force me to evaluate my position closely. Just today, I heard Tom Hayden speak on C-SPAN about the problems inherent in answering violence with violence. He made some interesting points that might apply to the death penalty. In any case, I cannot support the death penalty as it is currently administered. I have plenty of questions about how or if it can ever be administered with justice.

The following resources provide valuable data, ideas, and information on the issue:

Death Penalty Information Center
Testimony on Innocence and the Death Penalty, Illinois House of Representatives
Cornell Law School

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