If you want to get a heated argument started and watch it put Hiroshima to shame, begin discussing the death penalty,step back, and watch it go. This is one topic that has no middle ground or a safe place to stand. Both sides get very passionate about their stance and will spend hours defending it. So how can you look at the issues without passions and opinions in it to see the real meat of it? Let’s see what we can do.
The death penalty has been around since the very beginning of time. Every culture has a form of capital punishment in their past. Murder was the usual crime that received the punishment but you could find adultery, theft, and treason as a few of the other reasons. The death penalty was an accepted part of society and was usually quickly enacted.
The methods varied across all the cultures. Some cultures used the accused as part of sacrifices. Many Native American cultures would tie boulders to the guilty’s feet and drop off a cliff to the waters below. Burning at the stake, burying alive, and beheadings can also be found in various cultures. Over time the hangings, firing squads, and electrocutions began to dominate the methods used for capital punishments. For more on the history and methods I defer to Christoph Reilly’s article History of the Death Penalty, Executions, and Last Meals. Right now we want to look more into the whys and why nots.
Looking back into the depths of time the death penalty was just a part of the society’s judicial system. Laws were either written down and understood or certain practices were deemed so evil by the overall community that the sentence of death was automatic. Imposing the death sentence kept the society going and kept it clean. Without it, the evil(s) perpetrated would then be considered accepted and the whole world around them could collapse. The death sentence was to keep everything even and normal while ridding the society of the evil.
Over time the less heinous of crimes began to be included in being subject to death. Many cultures stated that the very act of adultery was a death sentence. The murder of the sanctity of marriage was now subject to the death sentence. Anytime a culture began to see a part of their lives “murdered”, the only appropriate punishment was death.
Centuries roll by and we begin to see the death sentence used when control of countries changed hands. Political enemies were beheaded, shot, or burned. Anybody who posed a threat was executed. The religious sect could not be left and they began to do various death methods to anyone who opposed their religious stance. Before long, capital punishment was more the norm than not.
Slowly groups of people throughout society began to oppose capital punishment in general and some protested only the actual methods used. It was deemed that anything “cruel and unusual” could be used to sentence someone to death. Now, that term can be interpreted in almost any manner depending on the culture. To one culture, beheading is humane. To another it is barbaric. To one, being electrocuted is humane. To another it is beyond barbaric. The terms become quite vague as each culture and even each person begin to look at it. What exactly is cruel and unusual? What exactly is humane? Should the person who kidnaps people and eat them alive be treated the same as someone who accidentally kills another while drinking and driving? What really is justice?
The ones who are all for the death penalty give various reasons for their stance. It does vary from country to country but most of the underlying message is the same.
The most popular is that someone has to speak for the victims. They are dead and do not have a voice against the guilty. Therefore, the government steps in as the voice of the victim and become the proxy for them as they throw the switch, shoot the gun, or release the gas. How else will the guilty get what they deserved and maybe give the victim’s soul a rest?
Another reason for enacting the death penalty is religious. Many religions call for the death sentence for various crimes. The Bible, the Koran, and many other religions have texts that either explicitly or are subject to interpretation to support capital punishment. The acts that should receive death are spelled out and is very clear.
One of the other popular reasons for capital punishment is using it as a deterrent for crimes. The government feels that if criminals knew that the outcome of their efforts would be execution, they will think twice before committing the offense. Check out the links at the end of the article for sites that you can explore that digs further into this reasoning.
Another reason given is the overall cost. It costs less to execute a criminal and bury him then it does to pay for his room and board for the rest of his life which could be lengthy. This amount could become astronomical over the years. By going ahead and executing the ones who deserve it overall society will not feel the burden. In the process society can rest assurred that they are still save.
Those that take the other side of the large wall and oppose the death penalty have their share of reasons for abolishing the act.
Many consider the death penalty as the government playing God. They decide on guilt and innocence and then decide when and how the person dies. The argument against is that this is not what man should do and is a very dangerous road to begin traveling on.
We mentioned earlier how religions promote the death penalty. They also stand out against it. Even the same ones that are used to promote capital punishment can be used to take a stand against that same act. Loving each other, forgiveness, and peace are explicitly stated in many religions which some take as direct opposite of capital punishment.
The act of implementing capital punishment is also said not to be effective in deterring crime. Statistics from DPIC show give a lot of data on how it might be totally ineffective. Other sites say that these numbers are not presented correctly. Due to being objective, their links are also listed at the end of the article.
Many consider any act of capital punishment as “cruel and unusual”. The fact that a life is being taken against their will is horrid and should be banned.
The biggest and most used argument against the death penalty is the fact that someone innocent could be the one getting executed. Over the last few decades as many as 138 have been exonerated. This number has been challenged by some groups, but there have been numerous people freed from death row based on new evidence. If an innocent person is placed in jail, they can be replaced and restitution made. If an innocent person is executed, there is not much that can be done.
So, where should we stand on the death penalty? Both sides can have good arguments. I could argue convincingly that capital punishment is the way to go. I could also give a good stand on how totally wrong it is. I would like to say that the stance we take should not be one that sways with every new development or political group. It needs to be what you believe deep down inside and even that could be changed. Yes, it could change. When you are faced with it in your life as a victim, relative of the victim, or as the criminal, it might look so different.
Sally Field starred in the movie Eye for an Eye. Her character was faced with not only the death of her daughter but having to listen to her dying screams over the phone. During the making of the movie, Ms. Field stated that she really had to take a long hard look at her stance on capital punishment. Now, I will not relate which side she fell on since that is her personal opinion and could have changed since then, but the fact remains that when we are faced with circumstances we might not feel the same.
Capital punishment is not something that needs to be brushed under the rug or decided on lightly. A life hangs in the balance and once done cannot be undone which includes that of the victim. Make your decision carefully. The future of it relies totally in your hands and those of your children.