47276987As the looming tragedy of the Troy Davis case continues to unfold in our courts and across headlines, we southerners, as the ones doing most of the killing and dying on death row, owe it to ourselves to pause for a moment and consider the full weight of what is happening here in our names. Just what does it mean to execute a person in the United States? What ultimate purpose does it serve? Can our death penalty really be called criminal justice? These are difficult questions. But they are not just philosophical musings. Since the restoration of the death penalty in 1976, 1,136 people in the United States have been executed on death row. That figure includes the 34 executions (30 in the South) that have taken place in the first half of 2009 alone. With human lives hanging in the balance, the stakes could not be higher or more real. We must get serious about this. It’s time to begin cutting through the cynical rhetoric, political cowardice and blatant untruths that have thus far characterized the national debate over capital punishment. It’s time for an honest, informed conversation. Let’s start with the facts.

The facts surrounding Capital Punishment in the United States are disturbing and, for avid supporters, inconvenient. Taken together, they paint a portrait of a society that ranks the value of human life in accordance with race, gender and socio-economic status. Let’s be clear. Currently, there are 3,297 people on death row in the United States: 99% are male; 44% are white, 53% are African American or Latino — nearly all of them are poor (that in a nation with a population that is 49% male, 75% white, 12% African American, 13% Latino  — you do the math).

The median education level of death row inmates is 11th grade. Half of those sentenced to death were between the ages of 20 and 29 at the time of arrest; 11% were age 19 or younger. What’s more, the vast majority of capital defendants lack the resources to pay for their own attorneys. Although the quality of legal representation is one of the most crucial factors in determining whether a person will receive a death sentence, the Texas Defender Service reports that “death row inmates today face a one-in-three chance of being executed without having the case properly investigated by a competent attorney and without having any claims of innocence or unfairness presented or heard.” This is our brand of criminal justice. The by now notorious accounts of attorneys conducting capital proceedings under the influence of drugs or alcohol or even falling asleep in the midst of a trial are just the tip of the iceberg.

DeathPenaltyIn addition, as the majority of studies have shown, there is also a strong correlation between the race of the victim and the death penalty. Stated plainly: those who murder whites are more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murder non-whites. In cases where executions have occurred since 1976, for example, 14% of the victims were black, 5% were Hispanic and 79% were white (that in a nation where 48% of homicide victims are white and 49% are black — again, you do the math).

So, in the end, what do these figures mean? What does it mean to say that death row inmates are poor and un/under-represented? What does it mean to acknowledge that they are largely uneducated, unsupported and disproportionately black and Latino?  You can attempt to offer justifications if you wish but the truth is that cells on death row are filled, not necessarily by the so-called “worst of the worst,” but, rather, by those most invisible and irrelevant members of our society; those we’d rather bury than respect; those who can very easily disappear without much fuss. Indeed, despite the pleasing moral symmetry offered in television shows such as “CSI” or “Cops” or even in some Supreme Court opinions, which delight in slicing all human interactions into neat categories of good and evil, and notwithstanding the undeniable brutality of the crimes for which these people are convicted, it is a profound mistake to overlook the fact that your average death row inmate has seen and experienced more violence, betrayal, abuse and neglect than non-invisible people care to imagine. That should matter but, routinely, it does not.

In fact, for nearly every person sentenced to die in America, death row is but the final stop at the end of a desperate path marked by dilapidated schools and housing, community and domestic violence, self-destruction and despair, poverty, racism,  degradation, humiliation, a complete lack of opportunity and support, abusive and dysfunctional families, poor health care, inadequate resources and role models, drug abuse and no treatment, homelessness and mental illness.  These stark realities do not justify the crimes we despise, but they do place them in their proper context. As one particularly eloquent capital punishment defender put it, “the death penalty is where all the contradictions converge. It is this country’s way of destroying the evidence of its failures, its hypocrisy, its shame.” It’s time we all gave this idea some thought.troyvigil4

Instead of continuing to kill more people every year — instead of paying to execute those who, despite their own actions, are a part and in many ways a product of much larger, systemic failings in this country — wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we began to address some of the ills that plague those damaged communities and broken institutions, which perpetuate violence and crime in our society? Wouldn’t it be better to avoid even the possibility of executing someone who, innocent or otherwise, doesn’t deserve it? Thirty-three years after the re-institution of the death penalty, is anyone actually better off?

Plus, probably the only thing that truly matters in the grand scheme of things — getting rid of the death penalty will save us all a lot of cash.

###
Bert Roughton III

Bert Roughton III

A native Atlantan and graduate of the University of Georgia, Bert presently lives in beautiful Brooklyn, NY. He is a student at New York Law School in lower Manhattan. After graduation in May 2010, Bert plans to go on to pursue a career in civil rights law.

38 Comments
  1. Terri Evans

    Such a compelling argument that it makes me want to cry, and cry-out! You’ve bravely taken on a very tough topic. It exceeds my imagination that anyone can justify or defend the disproportionate stats. I agree that “it is our country’s way of …” and makes me want to bury our collective heads in shame. And speaking of burying — your own words were particularly poignant, when you wrote: ” those we’d rather bury than respect.” I’m heartened to know that you will help to champion their cause and fight for their respect.

  2. From Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty –

    Call DA Larry Chisolm! If the Supreme Court chooses not to intervene, the Chatham County District Attorney will have to decide whether to pursue justice, or an execution warrant. Call his office at 912-652-7308 and let them know you would like the DA the re-open Troy’s case. If you live in Georgia or Chatham County, tell them you’re a concerned resident. But remember, you do NOT need to be a resident to take this action! Please spread this far and wide so the DA’s office knows Troy has national support.

    Call 912-652-7308 and ask that Troy’s case be re-opened!

  3. Billy Howard

    One of the most compelling and elegant arguments against the death penalty that I have read.

  4. The death penalty is nothing more than government sanctified revenge. A moral compass that condones and justifies this merely has a declination for convenience as capital punishment is, in my opinion, as barbaric as the crime for which it punishes.
    Thanks for posting this story!

  5. All this and Law Review, too! I’m so proud of you for this compelling argument against the death penalty. The paralells to healthcare reform are striking: a little prevention and fixing of our systems will go along way toward better lives and save a lot of cash along the way. P.S. You should try living in TX — even NPR simply routinely announces another person put to death with barely a mention of the person’s name or crime.

  6. Cliff Green

    Just to step outside the echo chamber, I’ll bite: “…death row is but the final stop at the end of a desperate path marked by dilapidated schools and housing, community and domestic violence, self-destruction and despair, poverty, racism, degradation, humiliation, a complete lack of opportunity and support, abusive and dysfunctional families, poor health care, inadequate resources and role models, drug abuse and no treatment, homelessness and mental illness.”
    If that statement is true, then why isn’t everyone who has ever suffered from “dilapidated schools and housing, community and domestic violence, self-destruction and despair, poverty, racism, degradation, humiliation, a complete lack of opportunity and support, abusive and dysfunctional families, poor health care, inadequate resources and role models, drug abuse and no treatment, homelessnes and mental illness” on death row somewhere?
    The fact of the matter is, most people who have gone through your list of ills live quiet, law-abiding lives. Why, when by your reasoning, they should all be cold-blooded killers?

  7. Lee Leslie

    Cliff, I wish reasoned formulas (even Young Bert’s list) for parenting, community, education, etc. could consistently lead to the same result in life. It doesn’t for the good lives nor does it for the bad. It only changes the odds. Genes, money, health, opportunity, timing, decision-making, relationships, and luck/arbitrary events, define our character and our lives – combined, they determine what is our “final stop.”

    The pragmatic role of society should be the same as the pragmatic parent: increase the odds of a successful life and protect the potential of those lives until the frontal lobe comes in. Too often, we fail at both.

    Overlay the devastating impact of the circle of poverty (and concentric circles of broken marriages, drugs and crime), with a justice system that is too often profiled and unfairly influenced by economics that determine access to competent attorneys who have adequate assets and time to properly defend (Georgia is a poster state for this problem), add easy access to guns, a prison system that hardens instead of rehabilitates, a society that has limited entry-level jobs and no safety-net, a political environment that seems to prefer building prisons to building schools or daycare, and, whether guilty or innocent, the odds of ending up on death row are much greater if you are arrested black than white .

    I’m not so naive to believe there are any quick and easy answers to solving the problems that make this so (though we must to do better), but it seems to me that there is something so fundamentally out of kilter with the way capital sentences are handed out to blacks and the poor, that we ought to stop them.

  8. Cliff Green

    Lee, I agree that “The pragmatic role of society should be the same as the pragmatic parent: increase the odds of a successful life and protect the potential of those lives until the frontal lobe comes in. Too often, we fail at both.”
    And I agree also that Georgia is the poster child for underfunding a workable system of competent public defense. The middle class on up invaraibly avoids the death penalty. It consistently falls on the poor.
    What I was trying to say is that in spite of all that is wrong with our society, the individual is still responsible for his or her own actions.

  9. the death penalty is wrong. People may not agree with me on this. What we do know is that the death penalty is an economic disaster (witness the Brian Nichols case). What we do know is that sometimes innocent people are executed. Isn’t that enough to put an end to capital punishment. Look around the world — how many highly developed countries have the death penalty? Precious few. And don’t get me started on those who are trying so hard to outlaw all abortions in the name of “Right to Life” while at the same time favoring capital punishment. You can’t have it both ways.

  10. Bert Roughton III

    “the individual is still responsible for his or her own actions” Usually, this type of statement is offered as a coded proxy for much more sinister sentiments – but I’ll take it at face value.

    Of course, there is no question that most individuals are responsible for their own actions. Excluding the ever increasing number of death row inmates found to have severe mental disabilities and cognitive impairments, capital prisoners guilty of brutalizing other humans and causing extreme devastation should not be allowed to escape accountability. The issues here is not whether individuals should accept responsibility for their actions but whether accepting responsibility should mean death. In asking that question, it would be foolish and irresponsible for our society to ignore or fail to take into account the equally brutal and devastating lives which so many people who end up on death row have been forced to endure and which, through consistent reckless indifference, our society has fostered.

    Just as individuals must accept responsibility for their actions, society must accept responsibility for its inaction. The former statement is an intangible, elusive ideal, the latter is a realistic, workable possibility.

  11. Terri Evans

    Bert, thank you for “clarifying” the issue — “whether accepting responsibility should mean death.” I agree with both “Lee’s” who have commented (Wilder and Leslie) and your “concluding argument”: a realistic, workable possibility. It is pretty to think so.

  12. I have worked with many women that have suffered lives of violence and abuse and ended up using drugs as a way to ease the pain and prostituting themselves to pay for their escape both leading to prison. If more money was spent at the grassroots level to help educate and work with parents, families, etc. perhaps we wouldn’t be spending so much on prisons and the death penalty. I believe Bert III said it beautifully “Just as individuals must accept responsibility for their actions, society must accept responsibility for its inaction. The former statement is an intangible, elusive ideal, the latter is a realistic, workable possibility.”

  13. Cliff Green

    What “sinister sentiments” do you believe I hold?

  14. Cliff Green

    Although it is a discussion for another forum, Lee Wilder brings up an interesting thought about those who try to outlaw abortion in the name of “right to life” while supporting the death penalty. The opposite is called The Great Liberal Conundrum: Supporting abortion while opposing the death penalty.
    Lee is right: you can’t have it both ways.

  15. Hey, I’m late to this constructive debate. If we cannot simply declare that imposing a death penalty is wrong for human and/or spiritual reasons, can we at least say that the execution of one innocent person is reason enough to call a halt to such a barbaric practice? The urge to avenge and to kill is in our nature, but I believe the rule of law works by lifting us above (or restraining us from) our worst primal instincts.

    Good piece, Bert III.

  16. Bert Roughton III

    Mr. Sharp,

    Lets take your points one by one:

    (1) “More Protection for Innocents” — Even if the death penalty defendants are, in theory, privy to the “most extensive due process protections in US criminal law”, even if they do actually get to enjoy these protections via adequate legal representation, this does not change the fact that our criminal justice system can and has executed innocent people. Here, likelihoods and probabilities cannot be offered as justifications – one innocent life taken is too many.

    (2) “Cost Savings” – For me, to be honest, the cost of the death penalty is actually irrelevant – maybe I should have laid out my sarcasm a little more plainly. When it comes to deciding whether our government has the right to execute its own citizens, I don’t think money is really an appropriate element to consider. If the death penalty was free, if it saved the state money, it would still be wrong and would therefore still be repugnant to a just and moral society.

    (3) “No Systemic Bias” – You claim that “the weight of the evidence is that there is no systemic racial/ethnic bias within the modern US death penalty.” Again, you say “the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections, meaning they have the most thorough reviews, inclusive of bias, in the pre trial, trial and appellate reviews.” You attribute the “statistical variances” to “very small numerical or percentage comparisons, which cannot and do not establish racial or ethnic bias or are the result of very poor studies.”

    Even your claims are true, even if our system operated exactly as it should, that still wouldn’t be enough. What you offer here tells us how the system operates but it doesn’t address why it operates or for whom. In fact, what is interesting to me about your response is not really what you have offered here to contradict my argument but, rather, that you fail to address what is, for me, the central point. That is that, accurate or not, expensive or not, bias or not, killing people that our society has failed so miserably in its responsibility to support and protect prior to the commission of any crime or handing down of any judgment is futile and unjust. I think Lee Leslie summed it up well in his response above: “The pragmatic role of society should be the same as the pragmatic parent: increase the odds of a successful life and protect the potential of those lives until the frontal lobe comes in. Too often, we fail at both.” Until we get this right, we have no business executing anyone.

    Obviously, I know you put a lot of thought into this. Try putting in a little more.

  17. 1) You say you are concerned for the innocent,that is why you say we cannot have the death penalty. Yet, the death penalty is a greater protector of innocent life than is a life sentnece. Therefore, you contradict yourslf.

    2) No. I didn’t see the sarcasm.

    3) You don’t defend your error filled claims on bias. You switch to an argument that because mommy and society may fail their children, that we cannot hold adults responsible for their harmful actions, until we have a utopion society, which reflects your vision. The position is so absurd that it is undeserving of reply. However, my position is that adults, are, overwhelmingly, responsible for themselves, in good things and bad, and that they should be rewarded or condemned based upon their actions.

  18. Billy Howard

    I haven’t seen any response to Bert’s point that if the system has the slightest chance of killing an innocent person, it is an unjust system. Mr. Sharp obviously would like to see guilty murderers executed. Is it OK if, in the course of this action, an innocent person is executed? Is that life part of the cost of having a justice system where the lowest common denominator is death? And is the state itself not guilty of murder in the case of an innocent being executed? And if true, does the state itself not deserve death? If not, then why are we as a large group exonerated from the punishment we would put on an individual for the same crime?

  19. Billy:

    The act of incarcerating or executing an innocent is only a crime, when it is does intentially. Any such persons should be held accountable. If the innocent has had full due process and there is no evidence of the innocence, until after the fact, it is not a crime.

    Of course it is not “OK” to incarcerate or executed or to find guilty the innocent. However, it is a product of a non perfect system, as all human systems are imperfect. That does not suggest or require that we do away with all imperfect systems, acts, etc. We should, however, work to improve systems.

    Innocents are more at risk with a life sentence than they are at risk with the death penalty.

    “The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/05/the-death-penalty-more-protection-for-innocents.aspx

  20. Billy Howard

    If we have an imperfect system, as you have admitted, then there should be no death penalty. It is that simple. If we have life without parole then innocents are at risk less than society as a whole is at risk when we take it upon ourselves to execute people using, as you yourself admit, an imperfect system.
    And, after the fact, to tell the dead that the imperfect system killed them, not us, and that unnamed innocent people may possibly have escaped some future harm because of their death… I doubt anyone in heaven will be looking down with sympathy.

  21. How is it we, as a society, still haven’t evolved to a point where taking the life of another is abhorrent no matter who does the killing? Can we still not find a way to correct, punish, protect without actual death? We look back at the Romans and their crucifixions and say, “how barbaric a race they were”. We say that with a smugness that comes with centuries of refined sensibilities. We look at the executions in Rowanda or Darfur and say, “what animals” with the same smugness coming from a more refined distant society. Murder and Killing are the same as Executions, it’s all taking of life. Executions just sound nicer because the judgment is made by a whole handful instead of just one. Generations from now will look at us and with a smugness from centuries of refined sensibilities and say, “I’m so glad we’ve finally evolved past the need for government sanctioned killing”.

  22. Bert Roughton III

    Mr. Sharp,
    (1) “the death penalty is a greater protector of innocent life than is a life sentence”
    Here, you are overlooking a critical distinction. This isn’t about the raw number of “innocents” saved. This is about who is doing the killing and why. This is about the difference between a single person’s crime and a deliberate state policy of choosing death over life. This is about whether we want to live in a society that embraces death as a means of persuasion and revenge.
    When one person brutalizes another for whatever reason, in whatever fashion, it is the result of a breakdown (be it moral, institutional, mental, emotional or what have you). When a state kills one of its own citizens, it is the result of a rational, deliberate process – it is a planned execution carried out in the light of day, under the rule of law and in my name. Both kinds of murder are futile and despicable (for reasons outlined in detail in the article and comments above) but only one is predictable, avoidable and entirely under our control.
    Of course, you seem to be under the impression that, when individual murders are committed, throwing another body on the pile will offer some kind of protection to the “innocent.” The fact, however, is that human beings have been killing and raping and committing all manner of unspeakable crimes against each other throughout our history, in all civilizations, under all forms of government. Despite what you may claim, there is little credible evidence to suggest that the death penalty has any value as a deterrent against this type of behavior. Here, you will no doubt offer studies which offer different conclusions and that is your right. What you can’t do though is claim that there is anything approaching a consensus in the legal, economic or social science communities which says that deterrence works. There simply isn’t and until there is, with human lives hanging in the balance, the moral obligations that come with claiming to be civilized human beings require that we air on the side of caution and avoid the killings. Our criminal justice system was not designed to accommodate any notion of “collateral damage.”

    2) I’ll lay it on thicker next time.

    3) “You don’t defend your error filled claims on bias…”
    I didn’t bother to defend my “error filled claims” because you know (or should) as well as I do that arguments which rely solely on the cut-and-paste exchange of social scientific data are hardly productive. I could offer the readily available, easily accessible information which I am convinced you are either ignoring or silently discounting but I have little doubt that you know where to find it. Tell you what… google “death penalty, racism” and get back to me.

    “…adults, are, overwhelmingly, responsible for themselves, in good things and bad, and that they should be rewarded or condemned based upon their actions.”
    When it comes to responsibility and free will, I can only ask that you try to look a little deeper. I think I’ve stated my case as clearly as I can and you are free to disagree. But the fact is that we live in a country in which serious problems with education, mental health treatment, drug abuse and social/political disenfranchisement continue to plague and elude us. Despite our wealth, knowledge and ingenuity, poverty and homelessness persist. These are not just isolated problems for the poor alone to bear – these are systemic, society-wide concerns which give rise to the kinds of problems (ie murder, rape, violent crime) which you seek to deter. So, all I can say is that we’ve tried it your way. We’ve been killing since the 1970’s and nothing seems to have gotten any better. Why not take all the money and effort which we now pour into the abyss that is our capital system and invest it in preventing and repairing the various “breakdowns” that are overwhelmingly the largest and most direct contributors to crime in our society?

  23. Kitty writes: “Murder and Killing are the same as Executions, it’s all taking of life. ”

    Killing equals Killing: The Amoral Confusion of death penalty opponents
    Dudley Sharp

    We execute guilty murderers who have murdered innocent people.

    The difference between crime and punishment, guilty murderers and their innocent victims is very clear to most.

    The moral confusion exists when people blindly accept the amoral or immoral position that all killing is equal.

    The anti death penalty folks are looking at an act — “killing” — and saying all killings are the same. Only an amoral person would equate acts, without considering the purpose behind them.

    For those, like some anti death penalty folks, who believe all killing is morally equivalent, they would equate the slaughter of 6 million innocent Jews and 6-7 million additional innocents with the execution of those guilty murderers committing that slaughter. They would also equate the rape and murder of children with the execution of the rapist/murderer.

    This is what the anti death penalty folks do, morally equate killing (murder) with the punishment for that murder, another killing (execution).

    For such anti death penalty folks to be consistent, they must also equate holding people against their will (illegal kidnapping) with the sanction for it, the holding people against their will (legal incarceration) or the taking money away from people (illegal robbery) with a sanction for that, taking money away from people (legal restitution).

    Most folks understand the moral differences.

    Some anti death penalty folks are either incapable of knowing the moral differences between crime and punishment, guilty criminals and their innocent victims, or they are knowingly using a dishonest comparison in equating killing (murder) with killing (execution).

  24. Melinda Ennis

    OK Dudley, you still are unable to answer the one critical part of this, which is the killing of the innocent. As everyone here has said, how do you justify the killing of even one innocent person by the state? We agree that it is a totally imperfect system, more than most since there are such huge varieties of “judgement” from state to state. One of the most reprehensible things to me (and puzzling to the rest of the world) is that the same crime can be committed in New York, and the outcome is incarceration, in Texas, it’s death. If we are going to kill in the name of the US of A, by God, let’s be consistent!! That’s just the point. It’s impossible to be imperfect, therefore we cannot justify even one innocent death. You can pull out tables and charts that show the statistical improbabilites until the cows come home, but we all know it has happenend. And that one “bad” outweighs any other possible “good” you can come up with.

  25. I suppose there is a possibility I could be either amoral or morally confused. But then again, I suppose I am in good company. The UK and most of Europe also oppose the death penalty and their crime rate is far lower than ours. Of course, they don’t have a citizenry armed with automatic weapons either, but that’s another discussion. I guess Dudley is comfortable that the US stands with other more morally sound countries like China and Indonesia

  26. Billy Howard

    I don’t have the capacity to write beautiful, compelling and well-thought out manifestos on the issues I find important and when I read one I always have an “ah-ha” moment, where all the thoughts that have swarmed in my head are rendered into print by someone else. I believe that is a gift and I thank Bert for bestowing that gift on me. The conversation that ensued has strengthened that belief. I even appreciate Dudley for providing a counter-point which has helped me and others join the conversation. Some of his arguments even have merit, but, unable to confront the horror of the possibility of an innocent person being executed by the state for a crime they did not commit, all the wind in his considerable sail dies and his boat is left adrift.

  27. Kitty:

    Very few anti death penalty people, that I have come in contact with, are so morally confused as to say what you have, which is:

    “Murder and Killing are the same as Executions”

    Why would they equate the rape and murder of children with the execution of the rapist/murderer or the victims of the Holocaust with those who engineered it? They wouldn’t, because they know the difference between between the rape and murder of innocent children and the basis for criminal sanction of the guilty rapist/murderer, even when they disagree with the sanction.

    Most moral folks can easily distinguish between the two.

    Even in Western Europe, that groups of countries whose governments are so unified in their opposition to the death penalty, a majority of their populations support the death penalty. (1)

    Generally speaking, the only difference between anti and pro death penalty is this: One finds the death penalty unjust and inappropriate, the other that it is just and appropriate.

    Kitty states: ‘I guess Dudley is comfortable that the US stands with other more morally sound countries like China and Indonesia.”

    Kitty,there is no need to guess. There are many countries without the death penalty that are, truly, foul in their practices, yet I would never compare their governments, morally, to the responsible democracies that also have no death penalty. Nor would I do what you, and a small percentage of non thinking anti death penalty folks do, compare the US to other governments, simply because they happen to share the death penalty as a government sanction..

    Governments, just as people, share a large percentage of similar characteristics, but that doesn’t make them moral equals. Nor does the single characteristic of being anti or pro death penalty.

    You, and, happily, only a small minority of others, are unaware of that.

    (1) Death Penalty Polls: Support Remains Very High – 80%
    http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2009/07/death-penalty-polls-support-remains.html

    The Death Penalty: Not a Human Rights Violation
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2006/03/20/the-death-penalty-not-a-human-rights-violation.aspx

  28. Billy, the wind does not die and the boat is not adrift, nor has any presentation on this site made such a case.

    Sadly, innocence are killed, all the time, by government practices under government supervison, when the responsibility of those governemnts is to protect innocents.

    I say the reality is that innocents are more protected with the death penalty and more innocents will die if you end the death penalty and only have life without parole, as a substitute for the death penalty. I say my case is proven and that none on this, or any other site, has proven differently.

    You are free to do so, as you have always been.

    The reality is that the horror of innocents killed, is greater without the death penalty, than it is with it. Those who wish to make that choice, to choose sparing murderers and sacrifice more innocent lives, are free to do so. However, they are not free to simply dismiss that fact and walk on their merry way, oblivious to that reality or to wrongly dismiss it with a cute, curt waive of the verbal hand.

    It doesn’t and shouldn’t work that way.

  29. Billy Howard

    The difference, and it is a quite considerable difference, is that when a person is murdered, the act is one of violence, committed by a criminal and when the state puts an innocent person to death….oh well, never mind, there is no difference. Murder is murder. We must do everything in our power to prevent it as a society, and to prevent it by laws and then to commit it by laws is a contradiction that more evolved societies have recognized and abolished.
    The world should move toward justice, and to do so society should set examples of greatness. Vengeance has never been great. There are a lot of things as a society we could do in the short term for greater safety, but it makes us all less as a society. We would perhaps be safer if we executed burglars, who may become murderers in the future, who knows, let’s execute them, I’m sure that we would save some life down the line, but as a society we would become barbaric, or might I say, more barbaric than we already are.
    Your boat is indeed stock still in the water, it has leaks and you are desperately bailing out water with the hope of saving your argument. Here, we’re throwing you a life preserver, grab it and we’ll pull you in.

  30. Billy:

    You are using a very dishonest method of debate. None of my positions have been successfullt challenged in these exchanges. You saying that they have been is of no credit to you.

    I challenged you, specifically, on that, in my previous post. You avoided the challenge, because you will not debate in earnest and, also, because you would not preveail.

    I make a true effort to consider the positions of others and then to reply, specifically, to those positions.

    You make a lot of statements, but provide no support for them.

  31. Lindy Lou writes: “OK Dudley, you still are unable to answer the one critical part” ” how do you justify the killing of even one innocent person by the state?”

    RESPONSE: I never attempt to justify execution of the innocents. I defend the death penaltyby stating it is a just and appropriate sanction, that is also a greater protector of innocents than is a life sentence.

    We are all hopeful that both governmental (or individual) practices, which result in innocent deaths, are constantly working toward minimizing that risk. There are two ways to do that.
    1) Stop the practice or 2) improve the implementation of the practice, in order to lessen that risk.

    In doing so, we need look at both sides of the equations. With the death penalty, usually, anti death penalty folks only look at the possibility of executing an innocent. What they fail to do, is to look at the other side of the equation, which is, what is the risk to innocents without the death penalty, which inquiry results in the rality that innocents are more at riosk with a life sentence. I have presented that case, and no one on this sight, or any other, has contradicted that finding.

    A recent example of that one tract and incomplete thinking, is all of the stimulas monwy spent. The critics say look at what has happened. “Unemploymenty has increased, spending, by citizens has decreased”. Therefore the stimilus has been a failure. No, that’s not what is means. It could mean that things are better than they would have been, absent the stimulas.

    I don’t think there is that much controversy over inconsistent application of the death penalty, or any other criminal sanction, at least by folks who understand the law. All state jurisdictions have slightly different laws and every sub juridiction has city, county, etc, with a district/county/city attorney who uses their discretion in applying the law. Statutorilly, there can be wide swings in cases, such as rape, where a state may have a law, which allows from probation to a life sentence, depending upon all of the circumstances.

    For those of us who find the death penalty both just and appropriate, that is all we need to defend the sanction, because that is the same standard that all of us, rightly, use to defend any legal sanction. It is just an important side benefit that it also saves more innocents.

  32. Bert Roughton III

    “With the death penalty, usually, anti death penalty folks only look at the possibility of executing an innocent. What they fail to do, is to look at the other side of the equation, which is, what is the risk to innocents without the death penalty, which inquiry results in the rality that innocents are more at riosk with a life sentence.”

    Again, you are putting all of your faith in deterrence, a justification for killing which, as I said in a previous post that you chose to ignore, has not been substantiated to an extent worthy of such faith. Again, we are talking about actual human lives, things which are supposed to matter, things which should not be sacrificed willingly. Until there is an uncontroversial consensus regarding your view that deterrence actually works, your breaking-a-few-eggs-to-make-an-omelet logic really can’t pass muster.

  33. Billy Howard

    Bert has already stated more clearly and eloquently everything I might say on this subject and so I am stepping out of the debate. Mr. Roughton’s words trump the half truths and stretched facts of Mr. Sharp. And, even if everything Sharp has said was taken at face value, a country that can be no more creative in controlling its citizens than to kill them, some of whom are innocent of wrong doing, is not worth the flag it flies.

  34. All I have to add is “here here Billy”

  35. Just curious… Am I more likely to commit murder if I am a death penalty opponent, or if I am a death penalty proponent? Any studies?

  36. Lee Leslie

    I just love this question.
    First, we need to assume your question removes Presidents and those who carry out orders to murder civilians under orders of Presidents, as that would tend to skew the results. Second, it isn’t clear if you are speaking just about domestic murder, which I assume, as international genocide would also skew the results toward death penalty proponents being more likely. Third, I’m also assuming you are talking about capitol murder – the type of murder that implies you did it on purpose or while committing some crime.
    Thus stipulated, logic would seem to suggest that you would be more likely to commit murder if you are pro-death penalty based on the assumption that non-violent beliefs make it less likely that you would own weapons with which to carry out murder and those beliefs would also prevent you from acting with pre-meditation.
    However, an argument could be made that it is a toss-up for the simple reason that murder is a stupid crime and stupid people aren’t likely to be convicted about punishment one way or another.
    Then, there’s the problem with drugs and alcohol involvement and one would need to determine if pro-death penalty people are more likely to drink or do drugs than anti-death penalty. That’s probably another toss up – or maybe, the jury’s still out.
    I’d love to hear other comments on this, because if one could prove that a stance on death penalty is related to the likelihood of murder, all we’d have to do is convince more people to take that stance and we’d save a bunch of lives. I wonder, is that what happened in Europe and Canada?

  37. Bert,

    I never put all my faith in deterence. You simply made that up or misunderstand. As my linked essay stated, there are at least three ways that the death penalty protects more innocents than lesser sanctions.

    The arguement for deterrence may be stronger than you believe.

    Deterrence is a universal and daily reality.

    As we all know, anytime there is a prospect of a negative outcome or consequence, some are deterred from pursuing the action that has a negative outcome or consequence. That is a universal truth, everywhere.

    The prospect of all criminal sanctions deter some. We have laws against speeding, some speed, some don’t. We have laws against tax cheating, some cheat, some don’t.

    Many of us have fears that have nothing to do with breaking the law, and those fears prevent some of us from pursuing many things. Again, we are all aware of that.

    It is the same with the death penalty, some will be deterred, some won’t.

    All deterrence works in that fashion.

    Reason and logic, as well as life experience, for all of us, demonstrates deterrence on a daily basis.

    If someone would like to attempt to disprove that, please do so.

    All types of deterrence are part of the fabric of man. It has never and will never go away.

    It is unreasonable to say or think that the only negative outcome/consequence that doesn’t deter anyone is the most serious criminal sanction.

    Very few anti death penalty folks will say “The death penalty deters no one”. It is very unreasonable to say that.

    Of course the death penalty deters. However, there will never be any agreement as to how much it does deter.

    But, the innocent lives that are spared by death penalty deterrence deserved to be saved.

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