Against the Death Penalty

In American society, the threat of capital

punishment stands as the ultimate sentence for a

criminal. The moral ramifications of the taking

of another life, whether it be by murder or as

legally accepted punishment, remains an unresolved

conflict between Americans. Despite the fact that

capital punishment, otherwise known as the \"death

penalty\", is legal in only a handful of countries

in the world, the majority of Americans regard it

as acceptable retribution. In the 1981 Gallup

Poll, two-thirds of Americans voiced general

approval of capital punishment. By 1994, the same

poll concluded that a tremendous 80% of Americans

approved of capital punishment (Moore, 1994:5). It

is no wonder that many of our countries leaders

endorse the death penalty. The former Speaker of

the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich,

believes that mass executions of \"27 or 30 or 35

people at a time\" would be effective in the

reduction of the importation of illegal drugs in

to America (Taylor, 1995). In 1972, capital

punishment was eradicated in the United States

when the Supreme Court declared that under then

existing laws \"imposition and carrying out of the

death penalty... constitutes cruel and unusual

punishment in violation of the 8th and 14th

amendments.\" (Fruman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238).

This decision, however, was repealed in 1976 by

the Supreme Court. Advocates of capital

punishment claim that it is an effective deterrent

against crime and that it is morally just. The

statistics, however, point the opposite direction,

indicating that capital punishment has little to

no effect on the occurrence of crime and is a

profoundly discriminatory and a morally

conflicting practice.

Americans are intimately concerned with crime

rates and the safety within their communities. The

most widely cited argument for the death penalty

is the claim that it is an effective deterrent

against the criminal act of murder. The argument

suggests that defending one\'s life against the

threat of potential legal execution would override

any inclinations to commit the act of murder, also

assuming that the potential murderer is of the

condition to make rational decisions. Capital

punishment simply bears little effect on the

occurrence of such crimes. Only a small proportion

of first degree murderers are sentenced to death

and even fewer are executed. Although death

sentences since 1980 have increased in number to

about 250 per year , this is still only one

percent of homicides known to the police. Of all

those convicted on a charge of criminal homicide,

only two percent, about one in fifty, are

eventually sentences to death. Death penalty

states in America as a group do not have lower

rates of criminal homicide than non-death penalty

states. In the 1980\'s death penalty states

averaged an annual rate of 7.5 criminal homicides

per 100,000 population, and abolition states

averaged a rate of 7.4. Further more, most

deterrence research has found that the death

penalty has virtually the same effect as long

imprisonment on homicide rates (Paternoster, 1991:

217-45). Former New York Police Chief Patrick V.

Murphy wrote, \"Like the emperor\'s new clothes, the

flimsy notion that the death penalty is an

effective law enforcement tool is being exposed as

mere political puffery\" (Murphy, 1995). The claim

that deterrence of crime is an effect of the

practice of capital punishment is simply

statistically invalid.

Moral justification is also a very socially

accepted argument for capital punishment as legal

practice. Many Americans feel that the act of

murder can only be justified with the loss of the

life of the murderer. Murder demonstrates a lack

of respect for human life. For this very reason,

murder is abhorrent, and any policy of

state-authorized killings is immoral. Executions

give society the message that human life doesn\'t

deserve respect when it is useful to take it and

that homicide is legitimate when deemed justified

by pragmatic concerns. Moral justification is also

invalidated by the discriminatory nature of the

practice in the United States. The death penalty

violates the constitutional guarantee of the equal

protection of the laws. It is applied randomly at

best and discriminatory at worst. It is imposed

disproportionately upon those whose victims are

white, on offenders who are people of color and

those poor and uneducated. Statistics are

particularly prevalent when confirming racial

discrimination. Between 1930 and 1990, 4, 016

persons were executed in the United States. Of

these 2,129, or 53%, were black. For the crime of

murder, 3,343 were executed, 1,693, or 51%, were

black. During these years African Americans

comprised twelve percent of the United States


The abolition of capital punishment in the United

States is supported by a host of respected

American organizations, from the American Bar

Association to the Catholic Bishops of Texas.

Despite the fact that America has long been

favorably disposed to the death penalty as

suitable punishment for America\'s criminals, the

popular justifications are statistically

unfounded. Racist in it\'s application,

contradictory in it\'s moral justification and


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