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Dean of Students

Reevaluating death penalty

Debates over the death penalty are, in essence, debates over justice. It’s generally never in question whether an inmate on death row deserves consequences for their actions. Most will agree that those consequences should be severe and satisfy the need for “justice.” All that’s really in question is whether capital punishment is in fact justice or rather, a form of glorified vengeance.

Prior forms of execution, such as the electric chair or rifle squads, were found to be too barbaric by a majority of the American public to utilize and were abolished in most states. In its place came lethal injection, as the idea of a criminal being injected with a deadly substance and dying in their sleep was much easier for many Americans to live with. It seems that the general consensus among those that support the death penalty is that as long as the individual being executed doesn’t appear to be in pain, then the execution is considered “humane.”

Yet the recent botched execution of Clayton Lockett has once again shown us that even lethal injection can be just as ugly as the electric chair. Lockett was sentenced to the death penalty for shooting a 19-year-old girl and burying her alive fifteen years ago. Lockett writhed and suffered for over forty minutes after being injected while those around him tried frantically to stop what many who witnessed the incident described as “horrific.” Lockett eventually died of a heart attack.

The circumstances surrounding Lockett’s agonizing death were unusual, yet it is not the first time that lethal injection has been criticized for being painful and inhumane. Capital punishment is, and always has been, a very flawed practice. After Lockett’s botched execution, the conversation needs to resume as to whether or not this flawed practice should continue and if it really is “justice.”

The flaws within capital punishment are many. How are we to know for certain if those that are being executed are truly guilty? There have been several cases of those on death row being found innocent before their execution. How are we to know if the process is actually painless? Clearly there are cases where it isn’t. Why is it that so many of those that are executed are minorities? According to Equal Justice Initiative’s website, 42 percent of those that are on death row are African American.

Finding a clear, better alternative is difficult, but a life sentence seems like the best option at this time. It is much cheaper, as millions are spent on expensive trials to try to attempt if one is deserving of capital punishment. It’s clearly much more humane and it keeps the most dangerous criminals from repeating their offenses. Removed from society and their families forever, there are few punishments more severe then that of a life sentence.

Faced with a flawed practice and a viable alternative, why do so many still support the death penalty? Lockett committed heinous, unforgivable crimes, yet was the loss of his life the only means of finding justice? In a civilized society such as ours, such medieval “eye for an eye” ideologies shouldn’t dictate justice.

The forms of execution that were considered “justice” and used hundreds of years ago are seen as barbaric by today’s standards. It is likely that a hundred years from now, lethal injection will be viewed the same way. With a life sentence being a much better alternative to capital punishment, we must once again question why capital punishment is used in the first place.

Criminals like Lockett will continue to commit unspeakable crimes that will anger and devastate us more than words can describe, but these emotions cannot allow for a very flawed system to continue to be mistaken as justice.

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