Do you know what happened to Nikolas Cruz? You know, the guy responsible for gunning down 17 students and staff at Stoneman Douglas High School last year? The 19 year old now faces 17 counts of murder and an extra 17 counts of preliminary murder. Of course, the death penalty has been brought to the table. It has been one of the most controversial subjects in America today. Does he deserve to die?
The death penalty is an ancient torture tactic that can be traced back thousands of years. However, more recently, it has become an unpopular form of punishment. Even though it has been eradicated from about two thirds of the world’s countries, it is still alive and well here in America. According to Statistica.com, nearly 41% of Americans today are against the death penalty for murderers. Today more than ever, Americans see the death penalty as cruel and primitive punishment that should be abolished because of a system that is broken in ways including racial inequality, false convictions and botched executions.
Public opinion has shifted about the death penalty numerous times. However, one thing most people leave out of the conversation is the racial inequality within capital punishment. About 12% of Americans are of African-American decent, yet they make up 43% of executions since 1976. Currently, African Americans also make up 55% of death row inmates. It’s no secret that there is a problem with law enforcement’s grip on black communities here in America. According to a study at the University of Maryland, researchers commissioned by the governor concluded that defendants are more likely to be sentenced to death if they have killed a white person (Statistica). This shows that the death penalty isn’t just wrong, it’s racist.
Another flaw in the system is the false conviction of innocent people. About 4% of the inmates on death row are innocent, which is double the amount of inmates expected. This is mostly due to DNA testing in more recent times. According to an article by Time Magazine, that would mean about 120 inmates of the 3000 on death row and prisoners who got their sentences reduced from death might not be guilty. Why don’t we do anything about it? False convictions are hard to detect. As a result, the great majority of innocent defendants remain undetected. Now that we have the technology to help innocents be free, we should put it to good use. Even if we are locking them up on death row, we have to be 110% sure that they are guilty.
One thing that has stained the already dirty resume of capital punishment is what happens when things go wrong? Not in the courthouse, but in the chamber itself. These days, the most used execution method is lethal injection. The rate of botched executions by it since 1890 is 7.1%. That means almost one in ten executed by lethal injection have suffered prolonged excruciating deaths that due to a flaw in the system. One of the most famous botched executions was the first death by electric chair. On August 6, 1890, William Kemmler became the first person to be sent to the chair. After he was strapped in, a charge of approximately 700 volts was delivered for only 17 seconds before the current failed. Although witnesses thought he was long gone, Kemmler was far from dead, and a second shock was prepared. The second charge was 1,030 volts and applied for about two minutes, whereupon smoke was observed coming from the head of Kemmler, who now was definitely dead. An autopsy showed that the electrode attached to his back had burned through to the spine. More recently, Clayton Lockett was sentenced to death by lethal injection in 2014. However, the process which should have taken 5 minutes tops ended up taking almost 45 minutes of pain and suffering. He had gotten up multiple times during the process after being declared unconscious. A lawyer of Lockett’s had described it as torture. If the system is unreliable, we shouldn’t trust it at all.
More recently, the Governor Gavin Newsom of California, has halted death row for the 737 inmates on it. This shocked the country, and the President, who tweeted out following the announcement, “Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers. Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!” (Twitter, @realDonaldTrump). He brings up the point that the loved ones of these victims would want justice in return. But should that mean killing them back, “eye for an eye” style? Newsom responded in an interview following the announcement stating, “I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinion on the death penalty- yet.” He is trying to reshape the justice system in California, even if people aren’t backing him. If he gets rid of it, California would become the 21st state to ban capital punishment.
However, just like everything else these days, there is always another side to the story. In this story, people argue that the death penalty IS necessary to maintaining a balanced society. One argument that can be made is that these are criminals, after all. Capital crimes and offenses punishable by death include crimes like murder, terrorism, treason, espionage, war crimes, genocide and more. These aren’t people shoplifting a nearby CVS, these are people who are committing serious crimes. Another reason the death penalty is still around in 30 states in America is because the system helps to give criminals second thoughts before committing the crime. According to an excerpt from “Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished?” by Joshua Marquis, he argues “the looming threat of a death sentence is a key reason many killers agree to accept sentences of life without parole in plea deals,”(P.3). Marquis argues that the presence of capital punishment helps to give criminals something to think about before committing a crime. However, if we draw the line to let the people know where they can’t go, that would help many criminals stay off of death row.
Instead of just arguing about it and not achieving any strides of progression, my solution is to get rid of it. Instead of killing off criminals, like many experts have said, just give them a life sentence without parole. It would prove to be more effective. Rather than having them killed by lethal injection or fire squad, let them rot in a cell for the rest of their lives and regret their actions. The greater the suffering, the greater the peace (I swear I’m not a psychopath). We should also work on improving communities of high crime rate. People don’t just go around killing people because it’s fun; there’s always a motive. If we can help educate people to do the right things, we will move forward with peace as a society. If we want to move forward, we can’t argue the whole time. It’s like a road trip with your siblings; If you can’t make peace NOW, you’ll regret it later when you argue over every little thing.
In the case of Nikolas Cruz, even though he killed 17 people in cold blood, I do not think the death penalty is the correct decision. Put him in a correctional facility instead of a coffin. Killing him won’t bring back any of the 17 killed. I do not believe we have the right to kill. People who do this need help, not death. We are sentencing people who killed to get killed; it’s a revolving circle of hypocrisy. Capital punishment remains to be a controversial subject in the United States, and will be for a while. On one hand, people find it to be an inhumane and unjust payback mechanism. On the other, people find it essential to keeping our justice system from crumbling. Like every other issue, it will remain until it’s resolved. Death, no matter the reason, is not justice- it’s murder.
Photo Credit: New York Times