The American death penalty is an unequivocal disgrace, the most chief form of barbarism in the entire western world. Its very presence is tyrannical, and its practice is one of unmitigated arrogance. How can any civilized government presume to be able to fairly judge who deserves to live and who deserves to die? The judicial system is put in place to discern guilt from innocence and dole out punishment to those who affront justice, not to determine one’s mortality.
Why has such a black mark on our supposedly enlightened, “millennial” culture gone virtually unchallenged in recent years? The answer to this is found in the changing context of the discussion. The issue of the death penalty has shifted from a philosophical debate on the nature of crime and punishment to a purely political battle. Any candidate for state or national office is automatically branded “soft on crime” if he or she displays any opposition to capital punishment. It is an ignorant bully pulpit, and a dark cloud that now unfortunately casts itself over both major parties. The picture-driven “catch phrase” seeking mass media has eliminated the grey area from all aspects of political debate, and reason has taken a backseat to expediency and image. A candidate once deemed “thoughtful” is now deemed “indecisive.”
Many tout the death penalty as a crime-deterrent, but the facts simply don’t support this argument. States endorsing capital punishment do not have lower instances of violent crime than states that don’t carry a death penalty statute. Capital punishment is also basically non-existent in western Europe, and crime rates there are generally far below that of American death penalty states.
To view capital punishment as a crime deterrent is to overlook a seemingly obvious psychological tenet. It is fair to assume that any would-be criminal with the mental capacity to commit a capital offense does not also and simultaneously possess the rationality to rethink his or her actions upon pondering the possible punishment.
The death penalty is a marked contradiction within a subdued legal code that grants most of its power to the accused. The judicial system is man-made and man-administered. All man-made institutions are inherently fallible, and therefore, unfit to assume the awesome responsibility of deciding life and death.
The law should protect us from the limits of our own intellects. Some third world nations execute rape victims for bringing dishonor upon their families, and while the United States certainly does not engage in any comparable practice to that, who is to determine what constitutes a capital offense? We are at the whim of our weakest and most destructive trait: vanity. The state cannot be the arbiter of subjective death. It is nothing short of playing God.