Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens recently wrote a review of a new book titled Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition by legal scholar David Garland. I haven’t read Garland’s book, but I appreciated Stevens’ review. One highlight for me was “the death penalty represents ‘the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes.’”
While reading this article, my mind was flooded with the many reasons to abolish the death penalty in the 21st century. Perhaps first and foremost, there is the false hope to victim’s families. They really want the deceased back and their lives back, but the death penalty offers only the “Myth of Redemptive Violence.” On this point, I’ve found the experiences and testimonies from the organization “Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation” incredibly powerful (http://www.mvfr.org/).
There’s the bumper sticker reason: “Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?”
There’s the cinematic reason: watch (and ideally also read) Dead Man Walking.
There’s the ethical reason: as a citizen of the United States, I oppose being made an accomplice to state-sanctioned murder funded by my tax dollars.
There’s the scientific reason: the better our methodology and technology gets, the more we find out we may have executed innocent people. As a recent Washington Post editorial highlighted ”Since 1973, some 130 death row inmates have been exonerated, largely through the use of DNA evidence. Yet not every state allows death row inmates access to such testing.”
There’s the the socio-economic reason: disproportionate numbers of poor and racial-minorities are on death row.
Finally, there’s the Christian reason: Jesus died by capital punishment. Think about it. The Christian symbol of the cross was first a tool of Roman state execution. If Jesus had died in the French Revolution, we’d have gold guillotines around our necks instead of crosses. If Jesus had been assassinated like MLK, then we’d have bullets on top of our steeples. If Jesus had been executed in Texas, we’d have an electric chair or hypodermic needle on our Communion Tables.