Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should not be executed and America must abandon capital punishment

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should not be executed and America must abandon capital punishment April 14, 2015


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a monster. When he and his brother set off bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon and later killed a police officer that resulted in a manhunt and shootout, they endangered the lives of so many Bostonians and the world watched on and wanted these men caught.

There is no doubt that this young man is responsible, along with his brother, for the death of four innocent men and women and injuring countless others and ruining an unprecedented amount of lives.

I was relieved the suspects were caught, Tamerlan, the older brother was killed while Dzhokhar was captured. 

Though I found myself feeling embarrassed by the crowds of people pouring into the streets that night chanting “USA! USA!” as though catching a teenage terrorist was a reason to celebrate in such a nationalistic form.

While relieved, I felt no reason to celebrate. These young men were themselves victims of Islamic extremism. I almost felt sympathy (and I say almost because while being victims in their own right, I cannot simply forget their actions and it is no excuse for what they did) for the young men who seemingly had shown such promise, but failed to take advantage of the opportunities handed to them. They had been preyed upon by Islamists who used American imperialism as a motivator to suck these young men into a faith that would lead them to that fateful day in April 2013.

The chanting in the streets reminded me of an America I didn’t want to see, one that looked no different than the videos we see of men in the Middle East chanting for Allah and calling for the death of another heretic. I felt as though if that crowd had Dzhokhar in their hands, they would have murdered him that night.

Many even complained he was getting such great treatment at a local hospital. We had begun to sink their level as a nation. Suddenly we wanted blood and I started to wonder if these people realized they sounded no less dangerous than the Tsarnaev brothers themselves.

I remember questioning the one sided firefight and the dangers of shooting that many bullets in a residential neighborhood and having people tell me he deserved to have every one of those bullets sent his way and they should have killed him inside that boat. It seemed we no longer wanted justice, we wanted blood.

After a highly publicized trial Dzhokhar was found guilty this month of all charges and now faces the death penalty. Millions seem to be calling for his death.

I am not one of those millions.

I despise Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I may feel sorry that his life took the path it did, but he made life choices that he must now live with. His actions took away and changed people’s futures, a decision they had no say in. He will now have to live with his choices for the rest of his life.

Tsarnaev should never see freedom again; he should never see the world outside of gray walls and barbed wire. A life in prison is what this man deserves.

Richard Dawkins tweeted after the verdict he did not believe Tsarnaev should be executed; he stated that he should sit in prison not receiving the 72 virgins he would receive in Heaven. While this can be a sometimes-comforting thought, and can be viewed as a punishment in of itself, this is not why I do not wish to kill Tsarnaev.

I am against capital punishment, in all cases, all the time. Period.

Capital punishment is barbaric and it is beneath us as a civilization. I see it as a mark of shame on our nation that we still use and enforce the practice that almost all other industrialized nations have abandoned.

In 2014, the top five countries that executed its own citizens are:

1 China
2 Iran
3 Saudi Arabia
4 Iraq
5 United States

(Chart of others, by year at the bottom of this article)

Take a good hard look at that list. As Americans we condemn the four counties listed above us for their treatment of citizens, we call them barbaric and yet there we are, taking part in one of the most heinous acts known to man; state-funded murder.

We believe if a government hands down a death sentence it is somehow justified, somehow it is different than if someone on the street makes the same decision. We feel if it is our government, it is okay. We will criticize, as we should, when a foreign government wants to kill one of their own for breaking their laws, but we do not apply the same critical thinking when it is our own country.

We make up justifications, claiming that evil men should not have the privilege of being alive, or that taxpayers should not have to foot the bill to keep murders fed and housed (Though the death penalty ends up costing taxpayers much more money). Then we continue on with our day acting as though our country has the moral authority around the world.

According to The Economist, the world is moving away from capital punishment,

At the end of 2014, 98 countries had abolished the death penalty, compared with 59 countries in 1995. The number of countries carrying out executions has halved. Last year at least 607 people were executed in 22 countries, 22% fewer than in 2013, according to Amnesty International, a human-rights organisation. In America, one of only two rich countries alongside Japan to practice the death penalty, fewer executions were carried out in 2014 than in recent years.

Country after country is abandoning capital punishment, what is taking the US so long? Why do we look on as the world progresses and moves forward and we sit here and watch one of our own states bring back the firing squad?

The death penalty clearly doesn’t work. Retired police officer Tim Dees noted in a piece for Forbes that,

The death penalty does not act as a deterrent any better than other punishments. If it did, death penalty states would have lower rates of murder than non-death penalty states. This is not the case.

The death penalty is also prone to human failure and in the US we have one too many times executed a later exonerated inmate, or have time and time again released innocent men and women from death row.

One of the main reason I am against the death penalty falls directly in line with the International Commission Against the Death Penalty,

The death penalty violates the right to life which happens to be the most basic of all human rights. It also violates the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Furthermore, the death penalty undermines human dignity which is inherent to every human being.

Simply put, I am a humanist and I am not going to be responsible for taking another persons life.

Or to quote the poet-priest John Donne who said in 1623, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”

The time is now to end capital punishment.

Below is the chart provided by The Economist and constructed using data from Amnesty International.

Click to enlarge


(Header Photo: Grk1011 – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

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