Abolish the death penalty so we can focus on the other evils of the Criminal Justice System.

“Thou Shall not kill”

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

The Bible and the U.S. Constitution are the basis for much of our societal norms around criminal justice, or at least out of context verses and purposefully misconstrued readings are.

I also used to support the Death Penalty, and not just for murder. I supported Capital Punishment for offenses like rape, kidnapping, I didn’t think it would be crazy if drug dealers and drunk drivers were executed. These are not unique views, especially in the south — where it was excusable to murder little black children for showing unwanted attention to white women.

I noticed that churches upheld an eye for an eye, and excused war, state sponsored murder, and shootings of unarmed crime suspects every week often under the gaze of a man unjustly murdered by the state.

I remember as a kid pausing to consider if there were innocent people in jail when Superman the animated series had an episode where an innocent man was seconds away from dying the gas coming up to his chin before Superman swooped in and saved him, but it was just a cartoon.

Then I learned that innocent men had already been killed and many more were currently in prison on death row.

Then I learned that it had no effect on crime.

Then I learned that the Superman episode and in fact every calm mellow depiction of capital punishment was a sanitized fiction, that every method of murdering someone is painful, disgusting and immoral.

That the electric chair makes eyeballs explode and lethal injection is torture.

That there is no functional difference between the horrors of using chemical Weapons in Syria and in a Prison in Louisiana.

The morality came after all this after questioning the religiosity, the cost, the constitutionality, the racism, the barbarity.

Now I wonder why the state should have the power to kill anyone?

Now I wonder why the same pastors who get on stage and extol the values of human life hours after conception can be the ones who excuses capital punishment as divine justice.

How can anyone kill someone as a response to them being accused of killing someone.

Funny enough it was not The Bible, or the Constitution, or teachers who changed my morality. It was John Grisham’s A Time to kill (Is it immoral to kill someone for committing a horrible crime, if so why can the state do it? ) The Chamber ( Do our principles change if the accused is a horrible person, does our morality account for evil men? ) and The Confession ( In an immoral and racist system can any decision made in this system moral? And does the system even care about guilt or innocence — no). These books are among his best works but at the end of the day they are just books right?

It took two personal conversations to solidify my convictions.

One friend was in town Sophmore year of college, we were driving to the beach discussing the takeaways of our semester. We eventually ended up discussing Capital Punishment and how useless it was. Now this is a friend who has every protective factor, is well educated, and a trusted confident I assume he will never be arrested- there was no reason for him to care about people in prison at 19. Yet here he was giving a passionate defense of the basic dignity of human life at the same time pointing out how ungodly expensive the practice is. It gave me pause to realize that although I went to church three times a week and this friend was agnostic and hadn’t been to church in a decade he understood the gospel much better than I.

Another friend I met in college, he loved dark humor and enjoyed shocking people with his words. He liked going with the flow but would stand up each and every moment he had something to say no matter who he was disagreeing with. We were talking about The Casey Anthony Trial and after quite a lot of very dark jokes I pointed out that she deserved the same fate her child had received. He spent 15 minutes pointing out everything wrong with that: We don’t know if she murdered anyone. She was found not guilty. How would that even work would we drown her and then bury her in the woods? Do we use Chloroform or not ? Who would kill the State, since they would also be murderers? What would be the point? Etc.

He asked me what the point of a trial is if the verdict will damage more people then it would help. I eloquently asked him what the fuck he was talking about.

He pointed out that the Jurors would have to live with their decision to allow someone to be murdered for the rest of their lives. So would the Judge. The prosecutor. The media, who in many trials assumes guilt and reports the evidence of such with glee. The Defense attorney has an intense burden placed on them, an impossible duty to defend a person everyone in the room hates on principal, they will be blamed for the outcome. Most of all the victims. The victims are punished by capital punishment, every appeal, every delay, every news article about new evidence casting doubt on the decision, every day that goes by until the date the State decides to uphold the punishment is a painful one. With all this in mind what if the person is innocent and the real killer is still free? How do you unkill someone?

I realized that he was right and that Capital Punishment had to either be abolished entirely or not at all. No caveats no matter how deserving the person is.

I was 100% on board with abolishing the death penalty by the time season one of Serial and Making a Murderer but I was pushed to consider the criminal justice system as a whole. My heart was broken when I took a class my senior year of College called Convicting the Innocent, where each week we learned how explicitly racist the Criminal Justice System was. Did you know that States that have fewer than 10% minority composition have either banned the practice of Capital punishment altogether or overwhelmingly use it to kill black people?
The State of Nebraska has 5% black population — about 90,000 brave souls. The State of Nebraska’s death row is over 75% black.
For comparison Mississippi has 38 % black population and their death row is 60 % black — though this does not count the lynchings carried out in the streets. Minnesota has received a lot of attention lately, they abolished the death penalty in 1911 when there were 7,084 Black people recorded in the state. Illinois — a close neighbor — had 109,049 Black people and did not get rid of the death penalty until 2011

Black people make up 13% of the population, and yet account for 46% of those on Death Row.
Black men who are accused of killing a white victim are the most common to be found to have been falsely convicted — sometimes after the state has carried out the murder.
The Death Penalty is as racist as it is ineffective and it takes a lot of focus away from other problems in the system. It’s not like Capital Punishment is the only sin. Life Imprisonment without the chance of parole is also immoral, and I was happy to see that the Supreme Court upheld this decision for minors but sad to realize it took so long to realize that this is wrong.

Solitary confinement is wrong, prison rape is wrong, the lack of medical care and the malnutrition of thousands of people is wrong. Cash bail is wrong. Holding people in jail for months without a trial is wrong. Imprisoning people for being poor is wrong. So take this as a full-throated condemnation of the criminal justice system and acknowledgement that allowing prisoners to be sexually assaulted, stabbed, and beaten is no less evil than strapping them to a chair and flipping a switch since it kills them just the same. So the goal of prison abolition seems less crazy each day. What we are doing is not working.

“Each year in prison takes 2 years off an individual’s life expectancy. With over 2.3 million people locked up, mass incarceration has shortened the overall U.S. life expectancy by 5 years.” — Emily Widra of the Prison Policy Initiative

It’s also a problem for public health. I won’t go into huge detail but one notable problem worth pointing out is the spread of communicable diseases.

Two big issues: HIV and Coronavirus.

HIV due to the lack of contraception in prison for consensual sex as well as the lack of effort placed on preventing prison rape despite its regularity.

Coronavirus at the time of this writing has killed 46,249 prisoners. 7,000 in TX alone. Here is a live tracker. Who knew that people stuck in close proximity together without access to healthcare, hygiene items, and ability to quarantine would result in thousands of deaths?

Even if you believe that most prosecutors are good people and are only doing their jobs. Consider this: “As head prosecutors in their counties, just five individuals have been responsible for putting no fewer than 440 prisoners onto death row. If you compare that number to the 2,943 who are currently awaiting execution in the US, it is equivalent to one out of every seven.”

Bad, but just some numbers right ? Read on from the same article:

“That might have presented an ethical burden to some, but not to Macy. As he sat beneath his Tombstone poster, he ruminated on the “patriotic duty” of prosecutors to aggressively pursue death sentences. He was proud of having sent a 16-year-old, Sean Sellers, to the death chamber before the US supreme court banned the execution of juveniles in 2005.

The problem is that Macy’s sense of legal propriety was not as honed as his sense of patriotic duty. The Harvard report notes that about a third of the 54 capital sentences he secured were later challenged and misconduct uncovered; three death-row prisoners were exonerated”

It is possible for one bad person in this bad system to kill get the state to kill multiple people. Since he wore a suit, tie and white skin he is not considered a criminal. Even if he hid evidence that proved the convicted was innocent we do not call him a serial killer. If a prosecutor makes a mistake, or even lies to get someone imprisoned they are protected by law from prosecution.

The Death Penalty is wrong. It is weird that it still exists in a place that believes it to be a City on a Hill.

Maybe we are really in the Valley of Death.

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