Sunday, January 12, 2003

Unilateral Action for Good rather than Evil

The widely reported story of outgoing Illinois Republican Gov. George Ryan commuting the death sentences of 167 people to life in prison "after concluding that the capital punishment system was haunted by the demon of error," is music to my ears. Finally, a strong stance has been taken on the evils of capital punishment that has been used as a deterrence against crime. Finally, the flawed justice system will no longer kill innocents. Finally, man (at least in Illinois) will not kill a killer for the sake of revenge. While I am not sure Gov. Ryan reached this outcome through the most fair methods, I am glad that someone in the establishment is using his position to put an end to a practice that had outgrown its origins.

From the Washington Post
The action was the culmination of an exhaustive review of Illinois's death row cases, which began three years ago when Ryan ordered a moratorium on executions after disclosures that 13 death row inmates had been wrongly convicted. The result was a complete change of heart for Ryan, who became convinced that the entire system was simply too error prone.

"Because our three-year study has found only more questions about the fairness of sentencing, because of the spectacular failure to reform the system, because we have seen justice delayed for countless death row inmates with potentially meritorious claims, because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious -- and therefore immoral -- I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death, Ryan said in a prepared text."

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if Maryland's incoming Governor will be taking any cues from Ryan.

"But Maryland's incoming Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said today that the action of Ryan will have no effect on his decision to end the state's moratorium on executions after he takes office Wednesday. A recent analysis of 6,000 homicide cases in Maryland over two decades found that the race of the victim plays a major role in whether the death penalty is sought, with prosecutors far more likely to bring capital charges against blacks suspected of killing white victims."

Here is a link to an article I wrote for The Satya Circle about the death penalty some time ago. I am pasting the text below as well:

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," are the immortal words of the great Mohandas K. Gandhi. And as those words rung true in 1947 during the Indian independence struggle, they too are relevant today in a World where we are struggling to find our own humanity. The execution of Timothy McVeigh has once again brought to the forefront the debate on the legality of the death penalty and the ability of society to punish other human beings by death.

The Oklahoma City bombing not only was the cause of death of hundreds of Americans, but also an illustration of how vulnerable Americans are to terrorism from both home and abroad. McVeigh’s gruesome act was indeed horrible, and he should have been punished to the full extent of the law, but how are we, as a collective society that is not above the law, able to decide who should live and who should die? If killing another person is a morally wrong offense punishable by death, how can the human-administered punishment of death be justified? Do two wrongs make a right?

Many suggest that McVeigh’s execution and the public viewing of it through closed circuited TV was a means of closure to the families of the victims. I contend however, that the viewing may not only drudge up painful memories, but would also be more of an act of vengeance rather than an act of healing. My emotional feelings would indeed differ had I lost a loved one in the disaster; however, rational thought provides that revenge can facilitate nothing but greater anger. The point of prison and jail time is not to placate the victims or their families, but rather to reform criminals. Not only is there a fear that using the death penalty as a healing tool for the victims is wrong, but also fear that it punishes the innocent exists as well.

For every 7 executions there have been 486 since 1976 one other prisoner on death row has been found innocent. These numbers are mind-blowing, and the risk of vengeance causing the death of one innocent person is too great to risk on the killing of one guilty. The state must find punishment that is not only fair but also just, and the penalty of death must be excluded.

The death penalty appears to be another way for the state to sanction murder and dehumanize the populace. When executions occur, it is as if the government has not only sanctioned but actually committed a homicide. Our leaders decide who dies and who lives, and that is not what they are elected to do. Death is supposed to be a natural occurrence, and when we allow elected officials, or any human being to decide who dies, human error and prejudices will get in the way. God decides who lives and who dies and the United States is supposed to be one nation under god, not one nation that is god. The death penalty is indeed flawed and must be outlawed.



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