Death by execution has existed as a punishment since the dawn of time. Yet although this has existed seemingly forever, the question of its morality has also existed for that same amount of time. Killers kill innocent people, there is no question about that, but does that give us the right to kill these killers? I do not think so. Racism is often the driving force behind crime. Yet in a justice system that preaches equality, it too is led by racism. There is “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty” according to a 1990 U.S. Government report. An overwhelming majority of death row defendants since 1977 were executed for killing whites despite the fact that whites and blacks are victims of murder in approximately equal numbers.
In Texas, for example, blacks found guilty of killing whites were found to be six times more likely to receive the death penalty than whites convicted of killing whites. Of the 3,061 inmates on death row, 1,246 of them are black, making 40% of death row inmates black. Compare this to the fact that blacks make up 12% of the U.S. population. Furthermore, many black prisoners on death row were sentenced to death by all-white juries after prosecutors had deliberately excluded black people from the jury pool. Racism alone is not the only problem with Capital Punishment. Many inmates on death row suffer from mental retardation. The 1984 ECOSOC safeguards state that the death penalty must not be carried out on persons who have become insane, while the ECOSOC resolution 1989/64 on the execution of the 1984 safeguards recommends that UN member states eliminate the death penalty for persons suffering from mental retardation or extremely limited competence.
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Amnesty International has documented the cases of more than 50 prisoners suffering from mental illness or mental retardation who have been executed in the U.S. in the past decade. Humanitarian standards maintain that mentally impaired people should not be held criminally responsible for their acts. The prohibition against executing insane recognizes that killing people who cannot comprehend the nature or purpose of their punishment is not a deterrent or retribution. Despite all this, the mentally ill are still being executed. Innocent people will be killed if the death penalty is kept in the same way that it is used today. Three hundred fifty people convicted of capital crimes in the U.S. between 1900 and 1985 were innocent of the crimes charged, according to a 1987 study. Some prisoners escaped execution by minutes, but 23 were not so lucky and found innocent of their crimes after they had been put to death.
A U.S. Congressional report by the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights in October 1993 listed 48 condemned men who had been freed from death row since 1972. The report blamed inadequate legal safeguards to prevent wrongful executions and listed numerous built-in flaws in the criminal justice system. The report concluded: “Judging by past experience, a substantial number of death row inmates are indeed innocent, and there is a high risk that some of them will be executed.” The death penalty violates the right to life and subjects the prisoner to the ultimate form of cruel, inhumane, or degrading punishment which goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, proclaims each person’s right to protection from deprivation of life, and it also states that no one shall be subjected to cruel or degrading punishment.
The premeditated and cold-blooded killing of prisoners in state custody violates these rights. Over half the world’s countries have abolished in law or practice capital punishment. 43 nations have abolished the death penalty since 1976, the year it was reinstated in the U.S., placing us among such bastions of fairness and justice as Iran and China. “The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.”-Pope John Paul II, January 27, 1999, St. Louis
The death penalty which violates these rights cannot be justified as a necessary public safety measure because detailed research, both in the U.S. and other countries, has produced no evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. This is not surprising, most persons who murder are not thinking rationally when they commit the crime. The threat of execution at some future date does not enter the minds of killers acting under drugs and/or alcohol, in the grip of fear or rage, or while panicking during the commission of another crime. Personally, I feel that the death penalty is an immoral act of the legislature that does not take into account the prejudices of the people who enforce the law. Racism exists along with the execution of the innocent and mentally retarded. This inhumane act serves the same purpose as life in jail but at a much greater cost. We should spend more money on crime prevention than on the enforcement of punishments.