On Sunday, Feb. 22, Pope Francis came out with some of his strongest statements against the death penalty. He explained that “the commandment ‘do not kill’ holds absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty.”
A lot of times when I overhear people debating about the death penalty, the side against will say something along the lines of “even if someone may deserve to die, life in prison is cheaper.” Other times, the “pro-life” movement is invoked and people say that “we should be pro-life even when it is hard.” These appeals to conservatism are unnecessary and avoid the real problems with capital punishment.
Before I get into the meat of my argument, I want to acknowledge that there are those who call for things like prison abolition. While a radical overhaul of the criminal justice system is appealing to me, I do not know if I am enlightened enough to see what this kind of a world would look like. So instead of putting forth a new and improved alternative, I am just going to critique the current system—sorry.
The first and largest issue with the death penalty in the United States is that it puts both our state and federal governments in the business of killing their own citizens. Regardless of your twisted sense of who “deserves” to die, the exceedingly fallible, bureaucratic system of law and order in this country is scary enough without the power to kill its citizens
As far as I am concerned, that should be the end of the discussion. Why anyone would be in favor of giving the government the ability to murder people is beyond me. Despite my feelings, there are of course many more reasons why capital punishment is wrong.
In an American Civil Liberties Union report, it was revealed that almost all people who face the death penalty cannot afford an attorney and use a state appointed one instead.
I am breaking no new ground by saying that public defenders have too big of a case load and are often inexperienced, so why are they the ones handling the cases where the most is at stake? The sad fact is that in many cases, all someone would need to do in order to avoid capital punishment is obtain adequate legal counsel, but sadly that is out of reach for many people.
What this means is that in practice, the death penalty is how we punish poor people. This becomes even more problematic considering that, according to a survey by the General Accounting Office, those who murder whites are more likely to receive the death penalty than those who murder blacks.
So the terrible criminals that we say the death penalty should be saved for are more often than not poor, uneducated people with subpar legal help.
The death penalty in and of itself is errant and in practice is so broken that it is used to kill poor people and affirm white supremacy.
I hope that soon the public consciousness will shift so that I will not have to pretend that the death penalty is anything but barbarism. While I am not a Catholic, I agree with the Pope’s sentiments. We cannot say that it is wrong to kill people and then kill people.
Stop talking about an imaginary death penalty and start talking about the one we have. The question is not “should a state kill its worst criminals,” but “why are we letting the government kill poor people?”