America is a unique experiment, the United States boasts the largest immigrant population, most linguistically diverse location in the world, the invention of jazz music, and the only developed western nation to systemically murder criminals. Though more expensive than life in prison and being less humane than penal servitude, capital punishment currently holds nearly the highest approval rating it has ever been granted amongst the American public (Ellsworth, pp. 19). Today, study after study has concluded a clear racial bias in death penalty sentencing; so much so that in 1972 the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional because it could not be doled out equally. Most of all though, the death penalty does not consider the idea that mistakes can occur, exonerating an inmate after death does not bring any justice to this world. There are activists working to bring reform to the United States’ prison system in innumerable ways, however the solution to bring justice to the death penalty is straight forward: it must be ended, because if lady justice is not blind, then she should be fired.

Every election cycle, state ballots feature one referendum or another working to end the death penalty and currently the vast majority, thirty-five states, have refused to abolish the practice. When interviewed most of those who voted in favor cited the reasoning that putting a person to death is less expensive than housing and feeding a prisoner for life, but the research disagrees. With the cost of mandatory appeals, state appeals, federal appeals, habeas corpus appeals, combined with the cost of incarceration that each prisoner on death row requires,  the tax payer will pay 90,000 dollars more than on the average prisoner. In California alone the tax payer has paid 64,260,000 dollars every year for the 714 death row inmates fettered in the state. Since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, those same tax payers have spent 4.6 billion dollars on the practice (Arthur and Mitchell, p.1). While financial burden renders an obvious demerit against capital punishment, the moral repugnancy of the penalty weighs even more heavily on the mind.

Death Penalty

For arguably the first time in its history, the United States of America is looking at systemic racism built into the structure of its government. Bryan Stevenson, an attorney and clinical law professor at New York University, heads The Equal Justice Initiative, he recently proposed the following hypothetical in his renowned Ted Talk. Imagine that today Germany still implemented the death penalty, systemically putting people in gas chambers, and that predominately those who received the death penalty were disproportionately Jewish; there would be a global outcry. Yet still in the United States, the country which invented the concept of race based inherited slavery, the majority of those on death row are low income black men and the majority of those black men are executed in the states which once would have held them in bondage, and capital punishment is deemed appropriate (Stevenson, n.p.). In an attempt to move forward a country cannot simply unshackle its past and attempt to sprint from its harrowed mistakes, people must actively work to remember and not continue the mores of the past. Starting most fervently in the court system which once upheld that very oppression.

Throughout the history of the Supreme Court, fifty cases have been heard regarding capital punishment, working to make the law more constitutional and defined. Currently, the law states that the death penalty cannot be given to minors, cannot be given to the mentally retarded, and cannot be given with any racial bias present; but what has always been most debated is what the punishment can be given for. After several cases, the definition has been set that only those found guilty of premeditated murder can be dealt the penalty, the idea being a life for a life, or a soul for a soul. Still though, the death penalty is fifteen times as likely to be given if the victim of the crime is white than if the victim is black and currently seventy-five percent of those on death row are criminals who had white victims (Kleck, p. 783). When these statistics are placed beside each other, the question which is brought to the forefront of one’s mind is, “if the idea behind the death penalty is a soul for a soul, how can a white person’s life be worth more than that of a person of color?” Capital punishment is an affront to the dignity of the human condition, an attack on what it means to have a human soul.

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From 1972 until 1976, capital punishment was deemed unconstitutional in the United States of America. Furmon v. Georgia was a Supreme Court Case which made the argument that there was a clear racial bias against William Henry Furman and that the death penalty as a whole was a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause because of its racial bias. This argument was accepted by five out of the nine justices on the court. By 1976, states worked to change the implementation of the death penalty so that it did not have as much of a bias and the Supreme Court Case Gregg v. Georgia stated that capital punishment was not a violation of the Eighth Amendment, and that it could be reinstated in some states (Schabas n.p.). In a sense, the United States has already created its own solution, it needs only to uphold its own laws, because today there is an obvious racial bias in death penalty sentencing. Capital punishment must be abolished because it violates the supreme law of the land.

Democracy is an exchange, it is the notion that government is going to take longer than a monarchy or dictatorship and in response that government will reflect the will of its people. To the best of its ability, although often taking an obnoxious amount of time, a democracy will do its best to ameliorate the mistakes of the past. Following the internment of the Japanese (some 50 years later) the government paid back citizens who had lost business. Recognizing the issue of systemic oppression, the United States created affirmative action to help disenfranchised communities lift themselves out of poverty. What makes capital punishment such a sinister injustice is the fact that it is insurmountable. To quote the poet Langston Hughes, “I do not need my freedom when I am dead” if by some cruel misstep an innocent is put to death, capital punishment leaves no leeway for justice to triumph and correct mistakes. Capital Punishment attacks the very foundation of democracy and its abolishment is the first step towards a more fair and just society, where prisoners are not seen as problems to be discarded but citizens to be rehabilitated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Ellsworth, Phoebe C., and Samuel R. Gross. “Hardening of the Attitudes: Americans’ Views on the Death Penalty.” Journal of Social Issues, vol. 50, no. 2, 1994, pp. 19–52., doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.1994.tb02409.x.

Gives a general sense of how the audience feels. The majority of Americans support the death penalty because they believe it will make their lives easier and safer. Helps me to understand that my opinion is in the minority. If I am to convince a majority of my peers it cannot be by simply appealing to their sense of morality and justice. Logos will also have to be relied on in this paper. It is a reliable source from a reliable scientific journal.

  1. “Race of Death Row Inmates Executed Since 1976.” Race of Death Row Inmates Executed Since 1976 | Death Penalty Information Center, “NAACP-LDF Death Row USA (July 1, 2017)”, deathpenaltyinfo.org/race-death-row-inmates-executed-1976.

Shows a clear correlation between the race of death row inmates and the race of their victims. If a victim is white the death penalty is more likely to be given than if the victim is of color. Using it to demonstrate the correlation. It also helps to make my title look really good so I like that. A reliable source of the NAACP, who have a vested interest in the race of death row inmates. To further their reliability their source is backed up by others.

  1. Stevenson, Bryan. “We need to talk about injustice.” Youtube, uploaded by TED, 5 March 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2tOp7OxyQ8.

Bryan Stevenson give a TED Talk on how America must reimagine its standpoint on the death penalty and instead begin to think of how people can be “more than their worst moments.” He is working to end the death penalty in America and end life sentences for minors. I used the anecdote from his TED Talk to stress the injustice of racial profiling in the criminal justice system. Used to show how the United States history should be reason enough to end the penalty. Bryan Stevenson is a Harvard educated lawyer and New York University professor who is the founder of the equal justice initiative. He literally wrote the book on ending the death penalty.

  1. Judge Arthur L. Alarcón and Paula M. Mitchell, Costs of Capital Punishment in California: Will Voters Choose Reform this November?, 46 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. S1 (2012).

Shows that the beliefs of most Americans are uninformed. Shows the average cost of a prisoner on death row. More so though, it shows how much more expensive the cost of a prisoner on death row is than a regular prisoner. In my essay I use it to show that the death penalty should be abolished for no less selfish reason than that it costs too much. The sources are a Judge and Prosecutor, both of whom would be considered specialists in the field.

  1. Schabas “The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law,” Cambridge University Press, second edition, 1997.

Tells the history of the death penalty in the United States. Also demonstrates the history of attempts to end the penalty. Allows me to have firmer grounding for my judiciary reason for capital punishment to end. Written by Cambridge University, a respected institute of higher learning and home to a world class law school.