The botched execution of Clayton Lockett last week has brought the debate surrounding the death penalty back into the mainstream. For those who don’t know, Clayton Lockett was slowly tortured to death after the three-drug cocktail used in his execution failed to work properly. He died forty-three minutes after being injected.
The thirty-three states where capital punishment is practiced have had a hard time obtaining the drugs they previously used for executions. Pharmaceutical companies, not wanting a guilty conscience, have refused to sell the drugs used in executions. Foreign governments have also restricted their sale.
With the better drugs not readily available, state officials have had to gamble with more unproven forms of lethal medication. As a result, inmates like Clayton Lockett of Oklahoma and Dennis McGuire of Ohio have been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment by the state.
Critics of the death penalty are citing these cases as reasons for abolishing capital punishment. The truth is, if you need reasons to oppose the death penalty, you don’t have to wait until the inmate is strapped to a gurney in a Jesus Christ pose.
For one, the death penalty disproportionately punishes black people, particularly in southern states. Since 1976, only 20 white people have been executed for killing a black person in the United States while 269 black defendants were executed for killing someone who’s white.
The two myths that lend credibility to death penalty advocates is that capital punishment deters violent crime and that sentencing someone to death is cheaper than locking them up for life. Well, like I said, these are just myths.
According to Dartmouth University statistician John Lamperti, “an overwhelming majority among America’s leading criminologists have concluded that capital punishment does not contribute to lower rates of homicide.” Murder rates in states without the death penalty are consistently lower than those in states that sentence people to death.
Contrary to popular opinion, it is also more expensive to sentence someone to death than it is to sentence someone to life in prison. So much so, that some states are debating whether to turn away from the death penalty just based on cost. In California for instance, it’s 10 times more expensive to kill someone than to keep them alive.
Let’s not forget the most important point in opposing the death penalty; executing the innocent. Roughly 139 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973 and at least ten innocent people are known to have been executed. A new report also suggests that a conservative number of 4% of inmates sentenced to death in the United States are possibly innocent.
As my readers know by now, I live in a country where the death penalty has been banned for almost forty years. Yet in Canada, as recently as last year, public support for reinstating the death penalty stood at 63%, roughly the same as the United States. Oddly enough, when given a choice, respondents of the poll supported life in prison over capital punishment (45% versus 39%).
Personally, when I debate someone about the death penalty, I tend to point out the flaws of our Justice system. Canada’s Justice System is flawed, just like the justice systems found in the US, Germany and Russia. No justice system is perfect and we should therefore not be sentencing people to die within these flawed systems.
While researching this article, I came across a great quote from Sun News columnist and attorney Warren Kinsella who admitted that he too, was a proponent of the death penalty, but three years in law school changed his mind:
“In my first year of law school in Calgary, in Criminal Law, our wonderful prof, Chris Levy, asked us who favoured the death penalty. Most of the hands in the classroom went up. The Prof Levy then said: I will ask you again in your final year.
And he did. In 1987, after three years of trying to learn the law… Prof. Levy asked again for a show of hands. Who favours the death penalty, now? Not a single hand went up.
What you learn in law school, more than anything else, is how completely flawed our system is. You learn that it is in need of continual improvement, and that it fundamentally flawed, much like the human beings who created it.”
Since the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, conservative advocates of the death penalty have not only defended the torture that Lockett went through, but are now showing support for less humane methods of execution.
These people are the same hardcore hypocrites who oppose abortion and big government, but don’t mind the state executing a human being. Whether at the state or federal level, what is “bigger” than a government that executes its own citizens?
Hypocrites aside, there is no concrete reason to execute another human being. Unless of course you subscribe to the age old biblical sponsoring of revenge. Don’t get me started on that.
The only way the debate against the death penalty will swing in our favor is by educating the public on the real facts, much like we’ve done recently with marijuana and gay marriage. Hopefully Clayton Lockett has provided that opening argument.