Should the death penalty be abolished?

Should the death penalty be abolished? – National Report

Scotty Ballard

Over the past year, scores of news stories have told of Black men across the country convicted of horrific crimes and sentenced to die; only to be freed–often decades later–by DNA evidence, eyewitness testimonies or revelations of legal bungling.

The shoddy state of America’s capital punishment system begs the question: Should the death penalty be abolished?

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan garnered worldwide attention and fueled the national debate when–on his last day in office–he commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates because of “the sorrowful condition of Illinois’ death penalty system.”

“To say it plainly … the Illinois capital punishment system is broken. It has taken innocent men to a hair’s breadth escape from their unjust execution….,” he stated.

Across the nation, politicians, pundits and peace officers wrestle for a solution, on both sides of the issue.

“I do not believe that the punishment of death really fits any crime, no matter how horrendous and horrible it may have been,” says Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). “I do not believe you deter the taking of lives by others by having a death penalty. There is no information or documentation that we have stopped anyone from killing because we have something called the death penalty. And in the final analysis it does not work fairly, if there’s any such thing as being fair about killing people.

“While I do not believe in the death penalty itself, certainly we should do everything we can to make sure that we honor the constitutional construct of you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

Looking ahead, Waters says she sees how the anti-death penalty argument could soon move from the courtroom to the streets. “Is it a civil rights issue? You bet your bottom dollar it is,” attests the congresswoman.

However, Larry Elder, talk radio host, author of Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests That Divide America, and former host of television’s “Moral Court” argues against abolishing the death penalty.

“I support the death penalty,” admits Elder. “It makes a profound statement that you have committed the ultimate sin against society, and society is making a moral statement about your conduct: You have to sacrifice your life.”

He continues: “[I believe] society has the right to judge who lives or dies [concerning capital punishment]. I know the argument `only God judges that,’ but frankly, my reading of the Bible does not prevent a state from capital punishment.” And although Elder admitted the number of innocent people who spent years on death row across the nation before being exonerated is disturbing, he added: “I wouldn’t throw out the death penalty because of what happened in Illinois. It just means we have to be even more careful.”

Nationwide, over 100 condemned Americans have been exonerated since 1976 and walked off death row as free men, according to Congressional Black Caucus chairman Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), who added that the death penalty needs more “critical safeguards.”

“Like the American Bar Association, I have lost confidence in the ability of this nation’s legal system to assure that no innocent people are being condemned to death,” Cummings said, adding that it was because of the possibility of death row innocents that he co-sponsored the Accuracy in Judicial Administration Act of 2001 with Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) that would give condemned prisoners nationwide a seven-year stay of execution to prove their innocence. “It is also why I co-sponsored the Innocence Protection Act to assure every person accused of a capital crime access to competent defense counsel, DNA testing and other critical safeguards,” he said.

Judge Greg Mathis of the syndicated “Judge Mathis” show also states he is against the death penalty “because history has shown it has been applied unfairly and dispropertionately against Blacks and Latinos.”

“I’m against it because of the possibility of mistakes occurring that have been revealed recently. They occur quite frequently, and if one life is lost unjustly I think that’s worm eliminating the entire system,” said Mathis. “I’m also against it for spiritual reasons for the same argument that conservatives use against abortions. They are opposed to taking life on the front side but not on the back side. I’m no such hypocrite; I’m against taking another’s life in any form.”

According to Anthony R. Scott, chief of the Holyoke Police Department, in Holyoke, MA, “There are those who deserve to die. It may not be politically correct, but the purpose of the death penalty it is to take vicious people out of society forever so they will not plague society again.”

Chief Scott is also national vice president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, but states that the views he expresses are his own and do not reflect the values and opinions of NOBLE.

“I don’t view the death penalty as a deterrent. If it were; people would not continue killing people. I view it as ending a problem with an individual so that it won’t repeat itself. When [people like] Charles Manson [or Timothy McVeigh] are executed, we don’t have to worry about them getting out. Our problems are over. People who [purposefully] kill other people, or torture and kill children deserve to die.”

Concerning people who have been freed from death row, Scott said the “system works.” But, on the other hand it’s possible innocent people have been unjustly put to death.

“Our system of justice is the best in the world, [but] I would be crazy to say that it hasn’t killed an innocent person. It doesn’t deter my opinion.”

Illinois State Sen. James T. Meeks, senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago, says that God, not society, has the right to choose whether a person lives or dies.

“In the Old Testament law, if your child was disobedient and refused to obey, the parents could stone that child [to death] so that all of the city could see it because it was to serve as a deterrent to other bad kids,” according to Rev. Meeks. “[But] with the coming of Jesus Christ and the New Testament we are now under grace and truth, and this puts us under a different criterion of punishment. You don’t see anybody stoning his or her kids now. Which is why we can’t use Old Testament reference to support the death penalty.

“However in a civilized society, any individual who kills a person must be severely punished, by whatever we want to use for our criterion of severe; short of death,” Meeks said.

Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, AL, says conflicting moral, ethical and financial reasons should be enough to halt further use of the death penalty.

“I think it is unreliably, unfairly applied and should be abolished. We are spending millions of dollars to execute people; some of whom may be innocent while ignoring effective punishment strategies,” said Stevenson. “It’s [also] racial … and bias against the poor, you are treated better if you’re rich and guilty than poor and innocent … It undermines America’s commitment and reputation on human rights. We make ourselves out to be hypocrites.

“When someone is executed we’re really saying their life is beyond hope. No punishment should extinguish the opportunity for hope or redemption.”

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