We are constantly evolving, undeniably, as a society and as individuals. Though, whether or not we seem to grow, is a different story. One of the oldest forms of law, the Code of Hammurabi, the famous “eye for an eye,” goes as far back as 1700 B.C.E. in ancient Babylon. We would like to believe we are past that, however, to a certain extent, we are not. The death penalty still exists, even though it continues to exhibit numerous and obvious flaws. The modern death penalty is an evolution and reinforcement of society’s desire for vengeance, rather than justice.
If supporters of the death penalty argue that the practice is to ensure public safety, then the statistics quickly debunk it. According to The New York Times, “Murder rates in states that have death penalty statutes are no lower than those in states that do not. Texas, which has executed more people than any other state, nevertheless had four cities on the roster of those with the highest homicide rates last year.”
The death penalty is ineffective, which disproves any argument that the practice is to teach any sort of lesson, as no lessons have been taught and no changes have been made. Nevertheless, for a sentence so inhumane, people are still willing to pay the price: a price that adds up when considering the usual legal costs: lawyers, pre-trial costs, jury selection, the trial, the unpredictable incarceration while on death row which includes maximum security and isolated facilities and the appeals, as reported by The Death Penalty Information Center. In Pennsylvania, the death penalty costs approximately $350 million.
Apart from its expenses and its lack of apparent societal improvements, the death penalty postulates the concept of justice while being explicitly unjust and biased, particularly to people of color. Justice does not come to mind when the flawed justice system promotes social inequalities when life and death are on the line, a matter far deeper than race.
Now, with all these faults in the system, why do we still allow the death penalty? If life is to be preserved, then why is a murderer’s punishment for taking it away also death? If katharsis, or peace of mind, is achieved through this practice, then why is that encouraged? Why is vengeance peace of mind? Why do people in this country, on the news, in the newspaper, hope for these people’s death? If vengeance is a possible trait of human nature, then it does not mean the justice system has to encourage it to satisfy the public. Before choosing to take any more lives through the death penalty, I hope someone asks themselves, “Why am I doing this?”
Written: Eva Fournel
Photo: E. Bar