I will be engaging the issue of capital punishment, as proposed in the following debate: http://www.debate.org/debates/Banning-the-death-penelty/1/. The debate is centered around the outlawing of capital punishment, or as the debate states “banning the death penalty”. The pro side utilizes mostly hypothetical and philosophical ideas to argue their case, the con side does the same with a single quote from the department of justice as statistical support. I chose this debate because I feel both sides took a very simplistic view of an extremely complex issue, while getting sidetracked, and missing several key topics relevant to the discussion of capital punishment. In my blog assignment I will attempt to communicate the ideas I feel are relevant to the debate, especially those that were not proportionately elaborated on to their importance of the topic. Throughout my everyday life, formal education, and casual self-education I have come across many intelligent discussions of the death penalty; that accurately reflect my opinion on the subject, that capital punishment is immoral and unjust, and I will use them as support for stating my position. My position is that capital Punishment is immoral because of the discriminatory and malicious attitudes it causes to be prominent in our culture and unjust because it doesn’t solve any aspect of the problem that the original crime created.
The side that is pro-banning the death penalty, justifies their position with ideas that the death penalty does not take the moral high ground, leave room for sympathy, set an example, solve the root of the issue, or address the inequality behind crimes worthy of capital punishment. And while these are good support for his or her position, the elaboration is weak, poorly worded, and only makes use of personal examples and hypothetical situations as support.
The side that is against banning the death penalty also takes a very simplistic approach that is essentially an eye for an eye, that sees those who commit crimes worthy of capital punishment as essentially unworthy, immoral, wastes of society and by taking their lives are improving the welfare of the rest of society.
I will begin by countering the points made by the individual that is against banning the death penalty. When he or she states:
“For people to have an appreciation for ‘being above them’ they wouldn’t have committed murder in the first place. They know (unless they are mentally incompetent for which they are then not held accountable)that the world as a whole does not advocate murder by the actions and laws of the citizenry. So the idea of ‘setting an example’ is lost on them as they don’t respect it and commit murder anyway.”
The argument here is basically stating that those individuals that commit crimes worthy of capital punishment, are not capable of recognizing society taking the moral high ground by not compensating a wrong with another wrong, in this case death for death. He or she is making the assumption in his argument that all capital punishment crimes are pre-meditated and intentional, that the person guilty of committing the crime was completely cognizant of the repercussions. This is not true of many crimes that result in a death and is exemplified by the different legal degrees and according punishments of crimes resulting in death, first degree murder is the only crime that fits the above understanding of capital punishment crimes but crimes that result from intense emotional reaction are also punishable by death. This attitude also ascribes a personality to the person who committed the crime, that they are equal to the crime they committed, but a much more optimistic outlook and one that I believe is put forth by author, lawyer, and professor Bryan Stevenson; that “each of us is worth more than the worst thing we’ve ever done” (15:20). You cannot sum up a person by their lowest actions, because just as every person has done wrong, every person has done right. When combining the two issues I have raised with the quotation it reveals the attitude put forth in the above quote is blinding and makes it acceptable to put a person to death by equating them to being nothing but a murderer, nothing but societal waste, someone incapable of growth, redemption, and recognition of society not giving up on them.
And so instead of “subscrib[ing] to the ‘eye for an eye’, ‘tooth for a tooth’ mentality… [Because] with death there is no possibility of parole, escape, sentence overturning on technicalities, etc.” as the argument states. I feel we should shift directions and recognize that with death we are also giving up. Our current philosophy “does nothing for no one” it does not deter crimes, it does not help the victim of a crime deal with their loss, it does not create a community which values human life, in all it doesn’t solve the problems of the crime or what led to the crime. Instead of dealing swift punishment as exemplified when the author states those found guilty should be swiftly executed. “Found guilty, goodbye… [to] the non-deserving.” Instead we “need to find ways to embrace challenges, problems, an suffering because ultimately our humanity depends on each other’s humanity” and our current punishment system with its ideology of dealing with results rather than the source of capital punishment crimes, is wrong and reinforces a disconnect of our people rather than an interdependent cooperation. And it is only through our recognition and honest confrontation of these problems, united that we can eventually address the root of the problem; by simply removing the problem from society via the death penalty we are sweeping the underlying issues under the rug.
These underlying issues is my belief on how we significantly decrease the amount of crimes worthy of capital punishment, not by enforcing the death penalty after the crime has been committed, but instead by recognizing patterns of those who are committing these crimes. Firstly by doing what Mr. Bryan Stevenson suggests and recognizing the problem and engaging in clear, honest communication for effective means to solve it, something our current system is not doing.
Secondly, I introduce Mr. David R. Row lawyer, law professor, and author on what he feels is the common corner that both advocates and opponents on the death penalty will agree is that we should work on preventing the death of an innocent person in the first place. And this is something I agree with.
The next question is how we do this, first we must recognize the common pattern that “80% of people on death row were in the juvenile justice system”, if we could somehow reach these offenders at a young age and prevent only half of them from committing the crimes that lead to their placement on death row that would be a 40% decrease in capital punishment crimes. Under our current system the FBI has only seen an 16.9% decrease in murder and non-negligent crime rate over the past 10 years.
Also from an economic standpoint “…for every 15,000 dollars that we spend intervening in the lives of economically and otherwise disadvantaged kids in those earlier chapters, we save 80,000 dollars in crime-related costs down the road. Even if you don’t agree that there’s a moral imperative that we do it, it just makes economic sense.”
It is then obvious that prevention is our best means of action to do the most good, if we can do so effectively, and in order to effectively prevent we must cast out mindsets that a person who committed a crime is nothing but a fruitless, criminal. And since the attack should be focused on the juvenile system, we must analyze the inequalities and the factors that lead to juvenile crime such as home life, disproportionate racial representation of juvenile inmates, types of crimes leading to youth incarceration, and alternatives to incarceration for the youth that is instead focused on rehabilitation.
We are incarcerating 40% of our youth based on crimes that are not clear threats to public safety, while I am not establishing a causal link between these 40% of non-violent offenders and the 80% of death row inmates that are youth offenders, I am arguing an overlap is likely and this serves as evidence of the inadequacies of our current system. There must be a better solution to TEACH the youth about the consequences of their actions and a better punishment methods to deter them. Currently, punishment teaches nothing and only lead to re-incarceration and handicaps placed on those incarcerated. The way our current legal system is set up, with probation, parole, heavy fines/legal fees/court fees, and decreased civil rights leads to the question; Are we trying to help and improve those that violate the law or Are we attempting separate and subjugate them? There are a multitude of solutions, the ones posed by Mr. David R. Row as well as the Annie E. Casey Foundations’s infographic are all ideas we need to explore in order to be able to tackle the problem and prevent our youth from going on to become death row inmates. And while youth incarceration rates are at an all time low in our country now, worldwide we still have the highest youth incarceration rates by far.
Lastly, I engage in answering why we should engage in and focus on preventative measures rather than post-incident punishments. And for that I use this lecture by author and evangelical pastor Richard Duane Warren.
But before I discuss his ideas I feel it’s important to discuss our current situation, that led to our policy to exist in its current state. Which I feel is summed up excellently in this interview between Jon Stewart and Bryan Stevenson
Around the 3:00 minute mark, they discuss how characteristics of millenial culture such as media fear-mongering of certain races as dangerous, combined with the overprotectiveness resulting from smaller families in millenial generations leads to implementation of laws that require mandatory sentences, 3 strikes laws, the war on drugs and in general lead to our system that is now more separation and subjugation rather than rehabilitation and redemption based. Now while this an extremely complex issue that can veer off into arguments about drug legalization, racial profiling, mass incarceration, racial inequality and many other modern issues; I will stay focused on how it applies to capital punishment. Based on the interview with Jon Stewart and Bryan Stevenson, we are currently in an environment that is not conducive to criminals improving themselves and becoming productive members of society. Instead we are in an environment that views criminals as beasts, keeping them on a short leash ready to again strip them of their powers to re-incarcerate and segregate them from productive members of society. Or if they commit a crime to harsh, end their life. But as Pastor Rick Warren so eloquently puts it we need to change how we view the world. We can no longer let fear, bias, and hate guide us. We need to recognize our inherent connection to everyone (through things like the internet and social influence) and how our culture causes us to evaluate the world. “Your worldview, though, does determine everything else in your life, because it determines your decisions; it determines your relationships; it determines your level of confidence. It determines, really, everything in your life. What we believe, obviously — and you know this — determines our behavior, and our behavior determines what we become in life.” Therefor by becoming a society that does not cast down it’s criminals, does not equate them to a beast to be put out of its misery, we take the first step towards solving the root of capital punishment crimes. Only then can we “…look at what’s in your hand — your identity, your influence, your income — and say, “It’s not about me. It’s about making the world a better place.”