Friday, May 10, 2002

Capital Punishment In America Has Some Serious Flaws

Regardless of your general opinion on the matter, it should be quite clear to you that capital punishment in America has some serious flaws. If we're a democratic and free nation, as I believe we are, we need to take some concrete steps on the death penalty. I know good people who favor it and good people who oppose it -- personally, I oppose it. But I won't let this post be about our true feelings on the issue. Rather, I'll talk about what we actually agree on regarding this divisive practice.

More than a dozen innocent men who once graced the cells of death row have been exonerated in the last few years. More disconcerting is the good chance that innocent people have been executed. Can the United States, if it intends to be a nation which pride itself on justice, allow the possibility of executing the innocent? That's Reason #1.

Reason #2: The death penalty, as applied in America, is racist. Sure, white people get put to death, but a disproportionate number of death row inmates are black or Hispanic. Generally, they are on death row because they are a) mentally unstable, b) poor, c) represented by horrible court-appointed attorneys, d) ignored by a callous system. Granted, there are people of all races who are evil and deserve to be punished accordingly. But not in a racist manner. We're a country that for hundreds of years has experienced severe racial tension. We had slavery and Dred Scott, then separate but equal and segregation, the KKK, race riots, and a whole bunch of demagogues in the Senate. Why should we extend our tragic history of racism to the way we run our justice system?

I'm stopping short of calling for the full abolition of the death penalty because I believe that everyone needs to make their voice heard on a moratorium and a cleanup of the system. Then, we can return to the debate about capital punishment's legitimacy.