Capital punishment continues to plague our country with an undeniable cycle of violence and a culture of death. We’ve all heard the question, but I think it bears repeating: How does killing someone for killing someone demonstrate that killing is wrong? The statistics are irrefutable: the death penalty is more expensive than life imprisonment, it does not consistently provide closure for victims or their family members, it is unquestionably racist in its application, it is capricious as to who receives it for comparable crimes, innocent persons have been on death row, and a handful (even one is too many) have been executed who were posthumously proven innocent by virtue of DNA testing. Further, we are the only developed democracy which still inflicts death on its own citizens for their crimes.
On June 17 and 18, 2014, three men were put to death by lethal injection in three different states: Marcus Wellons, 59, of Georgia; John Winfield, 46, of Missouri; and John Ruthell Henry, 63, of Florida. According to their convictions, these men all did heinous things and certainly needed to face dire consequences. However, they were still men, and, like it or not, at least from the Christian perspective, they were children of God. They were also sons, fathers, brothers, cousins, and/or friends of someone. More pain was caused by their executions and violence was done. “We must lift up the dignity of all human life – even for those convicted of the worst crimes, and work to transform our culture so that it respects the inherent dignity and value of all people,” said Bishop Blaire (of Maryland when the state repealed the death penalty). “Americans are beginning to realize that we can do better than the death penalty both to punish crime and keep our society safe” (USCCB, http://www.usccb.org/news/2013/13-082.cfm, Accessed 6/19/14). When we acknowledge the humanity of those accused and convicted of crime, we also remember the harm done by crime and the dignity and voice of those who survive those crimes, their families, and their communities.
Given recent botched executions in Ohio and Oklahoma and the fact that the U.S. stands alone among Western developed nations in its resolve to inflict death on its convicted citizens, it’s time to let the recent wave of state repeals of capital punishment wash over the rest of the country. Our communities are not safer because we threaten would-be criminals with the death penalty; the statistics bear this out. Rather than focusing on death, let’s focus on life, on mentoring our youth, on restoring communities plagued by crime, on providing quality education for children and adults, on resolving economic disparities that drive people to make desperate and sometimes illegal choices. It will benefit all citizens to turn toward life, to transform the goal of justice from one of revenge to one of restoring right relationships among neighbors, and to work toward true and lasting peace at home as well as abroad.
If you would like to see more reasons for abolishing the death penalty and the statistics that support this effort, see www.ncadp.org (among others). If you want to hear what crime victims and their families are saying in support of this proposal, go to www.mvfr.org.