One of the issues that “divides” Americans (and separates America from most other western countries) is the role in our judicial system of the death penalty – which remains a viable legal option for the Federal government, the US military and 35 of our 50 states.
Over the past 35 years, the US military has not executed anyone, and the Federal government has executed 3 men.
From 1976 to 2008, five states – Texas (405), Virginia (98), Oklahoma (86), Missouri (66) and Florida (64) – have accounted for 66% of all 1100 executions in America. Missouri is the exception to the rule, since, like four of the top five states, the next six states – North Carolina (43), Georgia (40), Alabama (38), South Carolina (37), Louisiana (27) and Arkansas (27) – are all also in the South.
Significantly, Mississippi, located in the Deep South between Alabama and Louisiana, has executed only 8 people over the same 32 year period.
Of those executed in America 1976-2008, over 99% were men, and 34% were black. The three federal executions involved one White, one Black and one Hispanic (the latter two in Texas).
The annual number of executions in America declined steadily from a high of 98 in 1999 to 42 in 2007.
Death row is the realm of quite young single men with inadequate educations. The average age at sentencing of the 3350 men currently on death row was 27. Of those 3350, 40% were under the age of 25 at arrest, 54% did not have a high school education, and 54% were never married. Curiously, 73% were not on probation or parole at the time of the murder, but 65% did have a prior felony conviction at the time of the murder. It would seem that society failed to take full advantage of a rather small window to alter the courses of many of these young men who had already come up on the screen.
Of those currently on death row, 45% are White (1517), 42% are Black (1397), and 11% are Hispanic (359). (Of the US population, 65% are Whites, 12.4% are Blacks, and 16% are Hispanics.)
Less than 1.8% of death row inmates are female (59), who are 51% of the population and 59% of voters.
I usually avoid opinion polls because they can be so easily manipulated and because I really hate being affected by herds. But the death penalty is one of those uniquely uncomplicated issues about which public opinion heavily influences politicians, especially in this age when political “leaders” have become consummate followers .. of opinion polls.
The latest public opinion polls indicate that about 64% of Americans favor the death penalty, while about 30% are opposed to it.
While the percentage of those favoring the death penalty has declined slowly over the past twenty years, men remain generally more supportive of the death penalty than do women. Conservative Republican males over 50 are the most likely to favor the death penalty (81% in 2007), while liberal Democrat females below 50 are the least likely to favor it (60% in 2007).
Those with post-graduate degrees (57%) and non-whites (55%) are the least likely of all groups to favor the death penalty. This could be due to the fact that well-educated people probably know that the death penalty has traditionally been applied disproportionately more often to blacks and to males. (The death penalty has traditionally been applied least often to those of significant wealth, but there are no reliable opinion polls based on wealth.)
Of course, as with all social issues, the devil is in the details. A half century of women’s lobby research in “marketing” taught us that it’s possible to get the results you want simply by the way the poll-taker phrases the issue. For example, if the polls asked whether one favors life without parole or a death penalty, a majority of Americans favored life over death (48%-47%) in capital crimes.
So, just what opinion does “the public” really hold? Does “the public” even know what it thinks? Who knows? (Check with the applicable lobbies.) Most Americans anymore are interested only in those things that directly benefit “me”; great at knowing what to think, they come up shamefully short on how to think.
At any rate, since the death penalty is a subject with which very few of us have ever had actual experience, chances are our views are shaped not by rational analysis but by our own particular herd membership (plus, of course, Hollywood). Those favoring the death penalty usually offer a variety of emotional reasons, citing everything from “an eye for an eye” to “closure” (a more “socially acceptable” alternative for “revenge”, or for “murder by proxy”), but they offer very few solid reasons that can be proven effective. In fact, most of the reasons cited for supporting the death penalty can easily be shot down with a few pesky facts and a little logic.
Take deterrence. This is the proposition that the death penalty is effective at reducing violent crime, especially murder. Baloney. The fact is that most research has found that the death penalty has virtually the same effect as long imprisonment on homicide rates, which may very well be none. In fact, the South, with the greatest number of executions, is the region with the highest murder rates. Most people who kill usually don’t consider the consequences until they’re arrested for the act. But there may also be some unintended macabre consequence to illogically using killing to deter killing.
Or cost. As with the whole illegal drug industry, significant beneficiaries of the death penalty are bureaucrats, in this case, those employed mostly in the judicial sector. With the prosecution of even a single capital case costing millions of dollars, the cost of executing 1,000 people has easily risen to billions of dollars. North Carolina, a small state with a lot of excellent universities, published one of the most comprehensive death penalty studies ever conducted. It found that the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million more per execution than a non-death penalty murder case with a sentence of life imprisonment (Duke University, May 1993). Extrapolating that extra $2.16 million to the 3350 cases on death row throughout the US results in an extra $723,600,000 cost to taxpayers. Other less exhaustive state surveys found that death penalty cases cost on average 70% more than life imprisonment cases.
There is a whole range of other arguments supporting the death penalty, but none that are not complete emotion can survive factual information and rational analysis. But for me, there’s only one factor that counts: The possibility that innocent people may deliberately be put to death.
As much as I know that there are twisted humans out there who do evil things for which they no longer deserve a right to live, I also know that our deeply flawed criminal justice system routinely convicts innocent men. Anyone who thinks it’s ok to kill a few innocent people in the interest of killing many more guilty people has a very twisted mind. Killing one innocent is murder. Period. And this is just as true of “collateral damage” in remote-control “warfare” as it is in the very deliberate American judicial system. Holding a combat soldier with a half second to decide to fire or die to a standard higher than people operating in committees with as much time as they want and zero danger to themselves is just incredibly hypocritical, to say the least. If such a standard can legally be applied to one, it most definitely can be applied to all. And, yes, it is just that simple.
So as long as those responsible for false convictions in this country do not face the same penalties as those wrongfully convicted, I will remain 100% opposed to a death penalty by any means. Like most penalties in our justice system, the death penalty is one that has never been applied equitably – without regard to race, gender or wealth – but the death penalty is the only one that cannot be undone. In western society, you have to be alive to be a “victim”, while dead people are just dead, a simple fact that I’ve always really hated, I guess because I’ve lived with premature death for most of my life.
In the US, the Innocence Project alone by 2015 had used DNA testing to exonerate more than 300 death row inmates. Most were convicted on the basis of false testimony, but there is no record of what price was paid by those who perjured themselves in order to send an innocent man to his death. Nevertheless this is a sorry commentary indeed on what holds itself up to be the world’s best justice system. (Just imagine the furor that would erupt if those 300 innocent men condemned to death were women – in a society that incessantly proclaims itself dedicated to “equality”. American women would ensure that the death penalty was abolished across the nation in weeks. How many of those who lied under oath to convict an innocent man were women? )
Despite all our self-adulation, our justice system is far from perfect. It is a system that now exists in an emotion-based society characterized mostly by rampant hypocrisy and double standards that are easily penetrated by young male minds – before they are brainwashed into submission by incessant politically correct bullshit. It is a system that heavily rewards attorneys working for taxpayers for prosecuting criminals with the full power of the state, no matter what it takes to rack up convictions – which are seen as “victories” easily ridden to political election and power. On the other side is a rag-tag system of public defenders from the bottom of the class with almost zero resources, or private attorneys mainly interested in milking a defendant dry.
Many hallowed principles of American justice are routinely perverted by American justice itself, including “a jury of peers”, “proven guilty”, “double jeopardy”, “fair representation”, etc.. Today juries in capital cases are scientifically chosen according to criteria likely to achieve the results desired by the prosecution and maybe by the defense, and may bear absolutely no resemblance at all to the defendant. More often than not, juries decide capital cases not so much on what defendants may have done but on the basis of who they are, including how they present themselves in the courtroom; women are presumed innocent while men are presumed guilty, etc.. (Old story, as in Camus’ “L’Étranger”.) In America, simply because it takes a significant arsenal to go up against the vast resources of the state, a defendant gets the best justice he can afford to buy and no more. And if the state doesn’t get the result it wants in a trial, it can always try again in a different court or on a different level until it does get the result it wants. In America it is nearly impossible for a citizen to successfully defend himself against the state represented by determined prosecutors, especially those with political objectives. Even if the defendant does succeed, chances are he will have lost everything he had when his ordeal began.
Of course, I realize that the overwhelming majority of defendants who are bought to bear under the US judicial system fully deserve to be there, but there is a tiny percentage that does not. And as long as that is a statement of fact, then the death penalty is not worth the chance of error, not to mention the extra expense.
There is much in the American justice system that is, in fact, not just. Obviously, actual political leadership is influencing prosecutions in Mississippi, while public opinion is running the show in Texas. It might the helpful to remember such ugly truths when considering the “benefits” of the death penalty.
Note: I also really despise the requirement that a person who admitted guilt in order to avoid the death penalty be permanently convicted on the basis of his own admission – regardless of evidence that later develops exonerating him. Only one step less evil than this one is denying a model convict parole until he admits his guilt to the state, and thus also permanently convicts himself. Such bureaucratic requirements make a mockery of the Constitutional right not to “self-incriminate”. Besides, far too many people are convicted in this country solely on the basis of the least reliable “evidence” allowed in a courtroom – eyewitness testimony.
Question: If “suicide by cop” is an “unavoidable tragedy” involving a man with a gun, why is there no documented case of “suicide by cop” involving a woman with a gun? An actually rational person might look at such statistics and conclude that it may be time to take a closer look at the cop … and his lifetime of double-standard training. Further, if gender is so incredibly relevant to “suicide by cop”, what does it say about that simplistic adage “guns kill”? If “guns kill” then there should be the same percentage of women as men who successfully commit “suicide by cop”. Quite obviously, it is NOT the gun that counts; it is the person with the gun.