by Calvin Schoneck
Reasonable people can disagree about whether or not capital punishment is a morally appropriate sanction for the most heinous of crimes. However, there is little argument about whether the death penalty is the ultimate price one can pay for a crime, and those who support capital punishment place incredible value in the principle of retribution through execution. Our society places a tremendous emphasis on the word justice, this idea that actions have repercussions equivocal to their praxis.
Everyone wants a criminal justice system that is both effective, and secure, so that all are judged fairly and without error. But the reality of the situation is far from what our justice system aims to be, because only in theory, are people perfect. The argument here is not whether killing is morally permissible, or even if people can commit a crime that makes them deserving of death. We as a society need to realize that capital punishment is not an emotional issue, but is a detriment of public policy. Because it is public policy, the costs and benefits need to be weighed as such. The cost of capital punishment is far too great, because the death penalty creates an undeniable and unacceptable possibility of executing innocents.
The main argument for intellectual proponents of capital punishment is that it serves as a deterrent for murder, but the numbers simply cannot support such a claim. Texas, Florida, and Missouri, the states responsible for 80% of all instances of capital punishment are actually some of the states with the highest murder rates and instances of violent crime. Oddly, these three states are responsible for 57 of the 153 death row exonerations since 1973. But we must ask ourselves is it really that odd?
Are we willing to say that the law enforcement officials, judges, and the legal system; given all evidence, do not treat some people more humanely or fairly than others? Of course not, because we would be ignoring the last 200 years of American history. We would be ignoring the Jim Crow Laws, the Sherman Anti-trust Act, and the forced relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during WW2. We would be pretending that black males are not the most likely victims of homicide, yet are the least likely to receive the death penalty for homicide. Punishment has historically been administered arbitrarily, so why would it be any different now?
Unfortunately we live in a society that is set up to value the lives of some, more than others, and I argue that it is because of this, the death penalty should be abolished.
Arguments for and against the death penalty are typically centered around some sort of morality regarding killing, but the issue here is whether the death of an innocent is morally justifiable. Fingerprints and ballistics; what used to be surefire proof of involvement, are now about as useful as a handful of air when it comes to convicting someone of a violent crime.
By supporting Capital punishment, one is saying that the death of innocence is an unfortunate byproduct or necessity for justice. The consequentialist may argue that it is a price that we as a society must pay, but if that is the case, they themselves must be willing to sacrifice their lives in the name of social order.
Even if the odds were 1-in-a-million, I argue that the death of an innocent is much more a travesty of justice than letting the guilty go free. In its most basic form, Capital Punishment is a government program, and skepticism should therefore be required.