POS334-L: THE RACE AND ETHNICITY BOOK REVIEW DISCUSSION LIST
Rev. Jesse Jackson, LEGAL LYNCHING (Marlowe & Company, 1996).
|"Eric T. Knepper" <eknepp@ILSTU.EDU>||REVIEW: Rev. Jesse Jackson (Knepper)|
|Timothy Alan Clark <taclark@ILSTU.EDU>||Review Legal Lynching (Clark)|
|Louis Raymond II <lcraymo@ILSTU.EDU>||Review of Legal Lynching|
|Ryan Snyder <rwsnyde@ILSTU.EDU>||Review; LEGAL LYNCHING (Snyder)|
|Date:||Sun, 22 Mar 1998 01:53:15 -0800|
|From:||"Eric T. Knepper" <eknepp@ILSTU.EDU>|
|Subject:||REVIEW: Rev. Jesse Jackson (Knepper)|
Rev. Jesse Jackson, LEGAL LYNCHING (Marlowe & Company, 1996).
Reviewed by Eric Knepper, Illinois State University. March 21, 1998
"Why does the United States remain the only developed nation that executes its citizens?" An eyebrow raising question and one Rev. Jesse Jackson answers in his well written, easy to understand appeal to reconsider Americas devotion to the death penalty. This is not the only issue Mr. Jackson addresses in LEGAL LYNCHING. Mr. Jacksons passion comes through loud and clear and he makes one of the most convincing and persuasive arguments to end Americas "legalized murder." Mr. Jackson favors strict sentences with no opportunity for parole for a certain number of years, typically 25 or more.
In his appeal to end capital punishment Mr. Jackson points out that mistakes are made in the trial and sentencing process; that defendants are treated differently depending on their race, gender, financial resources, and geographical location of the crime; and that the economic costs and deterrent effect of capital punishment have been misunderstood.
The United States has a history of capital punishment. During the good old days when the West was still wild a criminal was forced to sit on a horse with a noose around their neck, the horse was forced to run and the criminal hung from a tree limb. Not much has changed in the last hundred or so years. On January 5, 1995 Westley Allan Dodd was hung in Washington State; only this time there was no horse. Lethal injections, electric chairs, firing squads, gas chambers, and hangings are methods of execution the United States government uses to carry out the ultimate punishment on its most ruthless criminals.
There is no doubt that innocent people have been sentenced to death in the quest for justice. This is perhaps the most significant reason to discontinue the use of the death penalty: mistakes are inevitable and innocent people will be killed. This is a fact that Mr. Jackson returns to throughout the book. He shares stories of prisoners on death row awaiting their execution date who were wrongly accused but were fortunate to have been spared either through assistance from the media, philanthropic lawyers who donated time to their case, or just plain luck. None of these stories is a happy one, even though they ending would appear that way: "The fact that [their] life was saved does not show that the system works: it merely demonstrates that mistakes happen" (66).
The endings of other stories are not nearly so favorable. As Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall points out, "No matter how careful the courts are, the possibility of perjured testimony, mistaken honest testimony, and human error remain all too real. We have no way of judging how many innocent persons have been executed, but we can be certain that there were some" (83). Obviously once an execution occurs there is no redress.
In many instances when mistakes are made they are racially based. In one story, two janitors were suspects of the rape and murder of a high school student. One janitor was white, the other was black: "The police officer interviewing the two janitors told them, One of the two of you is going to hang for this. Turning [to the black janitor], the officer added, Since youre the nigger, youre elected"(61). In this case, neither janitor was guilty but the black one was tried and sentenced to death but later exonerated.
Thankfully Mr. Jackson does not exclaim that these mistakes are racially motivated decisions intended as genocide toward blacks in America (as other authors we have read would do). Mr. Jackson does, however, ensure the reader understands that the justice system treats blacks differently. For instance, "in Florida, 48 percent of the blacks convicted of killing a white person were sentenced to death, while none of the 111 whites who were convicted of killing a black person were sentenced to die" (89-90). Congresss General Accounting Office reviewed the situation and determined that "those who murdered whites were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks" (103). Interestingly, not only does the race of the accused matter, the race of the victim seems to matter more. Someone who murders a white person is more likely to be sentenced to death than someone who murders a black person.
Gender and the geographical location of the crime also affect the sentencing process. Women are rarely sentenced to death and depending on which state a brutal murder is committed, the death penalty may or may not be a potential punishment.
With the OJ Trial so fresh in everyones mind, the importance of money cannot be overlooked either. Mr. Jackson presents examples that demonstrate that poor defendants just dont get as much justice as rich ones. In some stories defense attorneys are drunk in court, others fall asleep during trials, some are racist themselves, and one defense attorney was convicted of drug abuse and sentenced to jail where he bumped into one of the criminals he unsuccessfully represented who was sentenced to death.
The primary reason for this lack of competence among public defenders is the low wages they are paid. In several states, such as Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, lawyers are sometimes paid as little as $10, or less (157). This situation led Columbia University Law professor James S. Liebman to report to Congress that "Poor compensation almost inevitably means that only inexperienced and ill-prepared lawyers will be available to handle capital-cases, and that lawyers will not develop expertise because they will be financially unable to handle more than one capital case. Not surprisingly, therefore, the inexperienced and inexpert counsel who handle many of the cases frequently conduct inadequate factual investigations, are unable to keep abreast of the complex and constantly changing legal doctrines that apply in capital litigation, and mistakenly fail to make timely objections to improper procedure" (135-6).
A common misperception is that keeping prisoners incarcerated for life is more expensive than getting rid of them through capital punishment. The costs of keeping a defendant on death row is approximately $25,000 per year, therefore if the prisoner stays 40 years, thats a total cost of $1 million (47). However, the expenses related to the appeals and other court costs associated with death row inmates and the elaborate appeals process can result in expenses of $2 million to $4 million per prisoner (47).
What about other costs associated with prisoners as they get older? How about this: release the prisoners when they are 55 to 60, at these ages they would pose a minimal threat to society. In addition, the lifers (prisoners incarcerated for life sentences) typically become the most disciplined prisoners and usually help calm the new and younger prisoners. Since they will be there for at least 25 years there is little incentive to fight the system, adapting is the only method for survival for the long-term prisoners. And the concern of early release is also unnecessary and misguided. "Two-thirds of states utilize sentencing that makes those convicted of first degree murder permanently ineligible for release, and most of the remaining states forbid parole consideration for a minimum of 25 years" (292).
The "deterrent effect" of the death penalty has also been misunderstood. Some statistics from Texas: it has six percent of the nations population, 32 percent of the national total executions between 1976 and 1996, the states murder rate is 25 percent higher than the national average (98). "Five decades of research across the country failed to show a higher murder rate in states that had abolished the death penalty" (115). In fact, a study in New York concluded that between 1907 and 1963 there was an average increase of 2-3 homicides in the months following executions: state executions resulted in increased levels of homicides (124). This is known as the "Brutalization Theory." "The violence of officially sponsored state executions brutalizes the sensibilities of society and actually increases the murder rate by loosening the inhibitions of potential murderers and offering the example of sanctioned vengeance" (124).
So why does the United States public still support the death penalty? First, crime is an emotional issue and a quick response to the increased violence is "kill them." Second, the alternative methods of punishment are difficult and technical to explain. Third, politicians and other orators find it easier to shout "Death Penalty!" than "Life in prison without the possibility of parole!" Fourth, the public disbelief in the criminal justice system keeping criminals out of society (54).
Good news for Mr. Jackson: various studies have shown that after proper education and explanation, people favor alternatives to capital punishment (54).
Rev. Jesse Jackson continues his crusade for equal rights and a more moral society in LEGAL LYNCHING. His writing style is accessible to anyone with basic reading skills and he sends a clear and unmistakable message to all Americans: it is time for the United States to join the other civilized countries by ending our legal lynching.
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|Date:||Tue, 24 Mar 1998 22:18:01 -0600|
|From:||Timothy Alan Clark <taclark@ILSTU.EDU>|
|Subject:||Review Legal Lynching (Clark)|
Legal Lynching: Racism, Injustice & The Death Penalty by Rev. Jesse Jackson Marlowe & Company Publishing 1996
Tim Clark Emailfirstname.lastname@example.org
....Clarence Brandley was a black janitor in the highly segregated, small town of Conroe, Texas. When a young white teenage girl was discovered dead, Brandley and his co-worker, a white custodian, were the two prime suspects. The lead investigator in the case told the two men that one of them was going to hang for this murder, the investigator then turned to Brandley and said "since you're the nigger, you're elected." Brandley was tried before an all white court and, despite overwhelming evidence, convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to die. Brandley came within months of his execution before a rash of citizens and reporters came to Brandley's aid demanding Brandley's execution be stopped. After Brandley had spent ten years on death row, it was discovered that a white man living in a town just down the road from Conroe had committed the murder. Brandley was released but he was ten years older and still lived in a state that murders prisoners faster than any state in the union, the majority of which are disproportionately black.
It is this case and several other like it that prompted the Reverend Jesse Jackson to write his book "Legal Lynching." America is supposed to the be at the forefront of human rights. A country that claims to be the leader in humanitarianism, yet we are the only industrialized country in the world that still uses death as a suitable punishment. Countries such as Mexico, South Africa, and Portugal have all outlawed use of the death penalty. Jackson asks how we can still claim to be the champion of human rights and still use a form of punishment so barbaric that even countries associated with years of bloody civil wars have seen fit to outlaw state sanctioned murders. So why then does the United States authorize the use of capital punishment.
Advocates of capital punishment usually point to one phenomenon in their defense of the death penalty. The death penalty is used to deter future crimes. This theory of deterrence states that when criminals are put to death for the crimes they committed, would be offenders know the punishment they will receive and thus weigh the consequences of their actions before they commit the crime. With the possibility of death looming, future criminals would be far less likely to commit these terrible crimes. Jackson points to empirical research conducted by several different sources that shows no correlation between the death penalty and the reduction of crime. This can be best illustrated when one examines the crime rates in states that use the death penalty with that of states that do not use the death penalty as a form of punishment. Jackson thus believes that the only true reason the U.S. can have for advocating the death penalty is strictly revenge. The United States uses the death penalty because we as a nation feel it is necessary to seek our revenge on these criminals. The Reverend states that the Bible teaches that vengeance belongs to the Lord. Jackson argues that if the death penalty does not deter crime, and vengeance is the Lord's, then we really have no need for the death penalty.
Jackson feels that we have always had two systems of justice in America, one for the rich and one for the poor. He also says we have had two separate standards, one for whites and one for blacks. This theme of two separate forms of justice is something Jackson uses throughout his book. Jackson draws on this theory to illustrate something he sees as a major problem with our criminal justice system. He feels that many times it is not the crimes that are committed which results in the penalty of death. More often than not, Jackson argues, it is who the victim is that has the larger effect. Jackson uses the state of Georgia to further illustrate his point. In Georgia, 50% of all murder victims are African American, but almost 85% of the victims in Georgia's death penalty cases are white. There are similar numbers in Florida and several other states. People who are found guilty of murdering whites are more likely to be sentenced to death than people who are found guilty of murdering blacks. Furthermore, African Americans who murder whites are 19 times more likely to be executed as whites who kill blacks!
Jackson not only argues that we have separate systems for whites and blacks, but also that we have separate systems for the rich and the poor. Jackson points to the O.J. Simpson case as a perfect example of this. Here was a black man accused of murdering two white victims. If Samson had not been as wealthy as he was, he would not have been able to afford the likes of Johnny Cochran and Robert Shapiro. Nor would he have been able to afford to hire countless experts. More often that not, Jackson states, this is not the case. In most cases involving capital punishment, the defendants are poor and uneducated. They cannot afford a "dream team," so they get the next best thing, a court appointed attorney. Capital punishment cases often times pay less that other cases, so they are only taken by inexperienced and uneducated lawyers. What results is poor representation for defendants who are facing the possibility of death.
Jackson feels that one of the biggest roadblocks for opponents of capital punishment, is the choices that jurors are given in these capital cases. If people are only given the choice to send a person to prison, with the possibility that he/she may be released in a few years, or death, jurors are going to be far more likely to be in favor of death. Nobody, Jackson included, wants to see dangerous people walking the streets. Jackson argues however, that there is no possibility that these dangerous people are going to be released. Jurors, however, are not allowed to know this. Prosecuting attorneys present the sentencing choices to the jurors in such a matter that many of these uneducated jurors do not understand that these people are not going to be released. Gallop polls show that as many as 86% of the public are in favor of the death penalty. Jackson says this is because they are given no other options. Jackson explains that in a similar poll when people are given the choice of life in prison with no eligibility for parole, public opinion falls dramatically. This is Jackson's ray of hope. He feels one day the United States may be able to abolish the death penalty in all fifty states.
Jackson is very compelling in this book. He uses cases that are real and cases that have happened in the recent past to illustrate that the death penalty is a real problem in our society. Jackson is not just pulling out random cases from far back in history, he is using incidents that happened just five and ten years ago to show that capital punishment is not working. Having been an opponent of the death penalty for years, I can strongly relate to several of the arguments posed by Jackson. He makes builds a very strong case against capital punishment and he does it in a manner that all can understand. He doesn't use much science or draw from hypothetical situations. Everything Jackson is presenting are real stories and real events from history. In this book the Reverend Jesse Jackson was able to transform his brilliant oratory ability to written work. I recommend this book to any one who is interested in capital punishment regardless of whether or not they are in favor of the death penalty.
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|Date:||Thu, 26 Mar 1998 22:33:04 -0600|
|From:||Louis Raymond II <lcraymo@ILSTU.EDU>|
|Subject:||Review of Legal Lynching|
Legal Lynching: Racism, Injustice & The Death Penalty by Rev. Jesse Jackson
Louis Charles Raymond II <email@example.com>
Is it really possible to be convicted of a crime that one did not commit. Our legal system promotes that it is better to let a guilty man free than to convict an innocent one, so we may tend to believe that it is unlikely to convict an innocent man. People have gotten to the point that the term, a man is found to guilty by the court than he must be guilty. It has even gotten to the point where the term innocent until proven guilty has all been but forgotten. The thought of sending an innocent man to jail is something that no one would like to have on there conscience but it has been done. As heart breaking that might be, a person who sent to jail falsely can be set free. This was bought out in the book with one heart throbbing catch, a person on death row, once executed, can not be given there life back.
This book was a collective of ideas that focus on the legitimacy of the death penalty. It effectively covered the large realm of argument that surrounds this topic. It was obvious where the author stood on the issue, but he successfully laid out both sides of the issue. This is what the help to develop the book from just a book bashing the death penalty, but one that acknowledges the other side of the issue and effectively articulates his point of view. This was truly a credit to the other. Admittedly, I feel that the discussion of the possibility of being falsely accused is a pivotal one. It is not the only argument against the death penalty. Rev. Jackson pointed out the he believes the procedure to be: unjustly administered, morally indefensible and fail to deter crime. Each point is eloquently examined and discussed with eloquent determination by Jackson.
Jacksons book uses high-profile case, as well as some that are not so profiled, along with some interesting statistics that help to convey his way of thinking, very well I might add. Through the statistic he also analyzes the implementation of the death penalty as it is used on the bases of race, class, sex, and geography. For this reason, Jackson makes it clear that our justice system does not administer justices justly. Sometimes the scale is already tilted and the women wearing the blind fold is able to see. Our justice is not blind.
I, as a black man, is glad the Jackson points out the prejudice that lies in our court system. Jackson mention the O,J trial in his book a couple of time he bought out the fact that many people looked at his guilty or innocent based on the money that he spent on legal fees. Many people say that that was not fair, he would have been behind bars had he not been able to pay. This is correct, he might have been behind bars, but that is not to say that it was unfair. many times people are convicted, maybe even sent to death be cause the did not the right funding to fund there case. The state spends countless dollars to prosecute someone. They are able to bring in there own specialist to examine the material that is considered to be evidence of the crime. In the case of someone who is unable to afford proper counsel, that must rely on the states witness to protect their innocence. Right there the scale is tilted for the state. This is not an isolated incident. Jacksons book points out many time where cities are have ill-equipped people representing people who are fighting for there lives. These people lose a one sided battle and many times are sentenced to death.
In the city of brotherly love, there is approximately 80 lawyers out of 8,000 lawyers in the city that are equipped to handle a capitally charged case. This is ridiculous for a city as large as Philadelphia. Due to this there are instances where men where convicted and sentenced to death because there lawyers where ill-equipped to handle there case. Sometimes public defenders, not just in Philadelphia, for the first time meet the clients are the arraignment, where most of the crucial decisions are made. At that time the defense is already behind the state. Our system is one where the poor cant when for losing. A lot of the times there are arrested because there are poor and then sentenced because they can not afford decent counsel. Being that we have a system that is as such, why do we which to take something that is not our to give.
Another interesting point is that we say that protest that the death penalty is to diter criminals from committing the ultimate crime, murder. An interesting point that was brought out is that most murders are committed out of passion. At which time those people that are committing the crime are not pay attention to the consequences of their action. So if they are not paying attention to the consequences, then how would it deter them from doing committing the crime. The book also brings out statistic after statistic that shows that the murder right has not correlation to the death penalty. Besides, the other half of the people who commit murder do not believe that they would be caught in the first place. In no way does in one seem affected, criminals and others, seem affective by the death penalty. So what is the reason left to commit a crime for a crime, murder for murder? The book points out that the only thing that is left is revenge.
Revenge seems to be the only reason left for murder. Of all the reason for such a violent act, this can not be the cause for taken a life. Besides, are we not so evolved are a country, that are actions are not guided by emotional.
Jackson took his book to a level that only a minister could go. He debated the issue with the assistant of the bible. In the bible, it instruct its people to remember that vengeance is mine saith the Lord, so how revenge be the focal point of the issue. Jackson does use religion is his argument because so many people use the scripture to back the use of the death penalty. He eloquently debated that issue stating that people use the bible to convey their point of view only and not using it whole context. By doing such, people run the risk of using the scripture out of content. This is a very dangerous practice.
Using the biblical dimension to discuss the whole issue, people forget the ten commandment on which Christianity and Judaism is founded. The ten commandments say plan and simply that thou shall not kill. What give us the right to kill. As I have said earlier, what gives us the right to take something that we can not give.
There are many passages that are written about this issue that are forgotten, or people do not pay attention to it, regardless they are there. People try to use the fact that in the biblical time people was executed. Jackson took a good look into to stories that people tend to over look. Here are some stories from the bible to think about. In my opinion, if one looks hard, they could see how Jesus feels about the death penalty.
There was this women who had committed adultery and the men of the town had gathered to together to stone her to death. the men approach a man and asked him about what they should do, At the time the man was drawing in the sand. He gradual looked up at the and simply told them that the man who had not sin may cast the first stone. The men simply dropped their stones and walked away.
In this passages Jesus was the man drawing in the sand. He knew that all men have sinned and reminded them of that. All crimes need to be punished, and Jesus is not saying that people should be given a pat on the back, but no crime validates death.
In closing there is one more story that I feel needs to be paid attention. There was this man who was considered the best citizen. He never committed a crime. He was quit a humble man. Regardless, in the middle of the night he was captured by governmental officials. A trial was given, that was unfair. He was not even given proper counsel. Regardless, he was sentenced to death, and executed. If it hard to figure out, the person was Jesus. This is pure example falsely accused people being executed.
For the longest time my view has been let the bastard burn. I use to say this all the time and other people of color use to question me about my view. My response was smile, you take a life you give yours. I felt that there was no way a person could change my view. However, I was wrong, my view has been changed. There are to many instances where people have been close to death in recent years and where proven to be innocent of the crime that the system believed they committed. In earlier years, there are evidence of people that was executed and was innocent. Fro those of you who may say , that was a long time ago. Remember it took a while for use to find out. Right after it happens, no one comes forward, not until later do they come out. So there may still be instances, is it really worth it? Have we not evolved beyond a blood thirsty nation, were legends of people gather together to see an execution? No, we still have the death penalty, along with a hundred other undistinguished countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Vietnam. Is this the company we wish to be associated with.
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|Date:||Tue, 21 Apr 1998 21:12:19 -0500|
|From:||Ryan Snyder <rwsnyde@ILSTU.EDU>|
|Subject:||Review; LEGAL LYNCHING (Snyder)|
Jesse Jackson LEGAL LYNCHING (Marlowe & Company, 1996)
Review by: Ryan Snyder, firstname.lastname@example.org
Legal Lynching, a book written by Jesse Jackson, is about life and death, black and white, rich and poor, justice and injustice, innocence and guilt. It is about who lives and who dies, and how we decide who lives and who dies. It is also about justice for all of us. America does not have moral authority and the weakest link in America's moral armor is our resort to legal executions. Jesse Jackson discusses how we can fix that weakest link. He shows the place of state-sanctioned killing in history, and the strides the people of the earth have made to eradicate it. He explains why we no longer need the death penalty, and the strict alternative sentences that we already have that can replace it. He investigates the undue burden that capital punishment places on poor people, on minorities, and on those who have no voice in our society. He outlines the moral, ethical, and religious arguments against capital punishment. Finally, he gives us a message of hope that America will soon be joining the rest of the civilized world in moving toward a death penalty-free future.
One reason capital punishment is so difficult to outlaw as an unacceptable human practice is that its roots are deep in the human psyche, in tradition, and in the evolution of the practice of law. The death penalty has been practiced since the sixteenth century before Christ and after nearly 4,000 years of documented capital punishment for crimes ranging from insult to treason, the last two decades has seen country after country abolish the death penalty. The United States remains in the undistinguished company of nearly 100 other countries, including China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Vietnam. The arguments for the opposition of the death penalty were beginning to flourish in the mid-1700s are still at the heart of the debate today. Some arguments that were debated was that long-term imprisonment is as effective in preventing crime as is the death penalty, that the state's participation in capital punishment increases rather than decreases violence in society, and that the death penalty's finality leaves no room for corrective action if the person is later found to be innocent. In the late 1800s, Kansas, Iowa, and Colorado experimented with abolishing the death penalty. State legislatures vacillated between reason on one hand and the passions of their constituents on the other. Reason would persuade them to outlaw capital punishment, then a heinous crime would be committed, and then passion would drive public debate and the death penalty would be reinstated. In 1962, the United Nations issued a report claiming that the revocation of the death penalty has never been shown to result in an increase in crime. In 1990, the United Nations called on all member nations to take steps toward abolishing capital punishment.
For more than 20 years, states have been trying to come up with death penalty statutes that do not contravene the Constitution. The genesis of this phase of the battle was the 1972 Supreme Court decision Furman v. Georgia, which briefly eliminated capital punishment in the United States. In the years preceding Furman, the sentencer- either judge or jury- chose between imposing death or a lesser sentence for a person convicted of murder. By allowing judges, and especially juries, the ultimate power to punish a criminal, certain inconsistencies arose, often because of prejudice or sheer whim. Racism, especially in the South, influenced many verdicts. In Furman, the Supreme Court called the application of the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment because of its "capriciousness." In his comments on the case, Justice White noted that there was "no meaningful basis for distinguishing the few cases in which [the death penalty] is imposed from the many cases in which it is not." However, Furman did not deem the death penalty itself unconstitutional, only the way it was applied. Thus, the states began to rewrite their capital punishment statutes to include procedural safeguards in sentencing to ensure they would no longer be seen as capricious. Beginning in a few progressive strongholds and eventually spreading to a majority of the states, the legislatures added an alternative to capital punishment that would keep society safe without needlessly taking human life: life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This alternative arose out of the concerns that many citizens and legislators have over the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent and as a fair means of punishment. There are many issues that raise doubts about capital punishment. Racism is one, the Rodney King beating symbolized for many Americans the perception of racial injustice within the criminal justice system. Another issue is the possibility that an innocent person may be killed by the state for a crime he or she did not commit. For example, when the Supreme Court commuted all death sentences in 1972, five of those who were on death row at the time went on to prove their innocence. As the number of death row inmates across the country continues to set new records, the pace of executions accelerates, and the safeguard of habeas corpus is reduced, the probability of more innocent people receiving the death penalty increases. Another factor in the decision to add life without parole as another option in capital sentencing was the public's perception of "revolving-door prisons." Life without parole also alleviates the burden of appeals in capital cases. Since Furman, the ratio of death sentences handed down to the number of people actually executed is twenty to one. Life without the possibility of parole is not as final as the death penalty, and so the need for costly appeals is lessened. Life without the possibility of parole is also more cost-efficient than the death penalty. It costs states roughly $25,000 a year to house a defendant on death row. If the convict were sentenced at age 25 and died at age 65, the state will have spent a total of $1 million on him. However, the death penalty itself, with all its appeals, can cost a state anywhere from $2 million to $4 million. Instead of attacking crime after it is committed, states which have eliminated capital punishment free up the funds to preclude crime through proven programs like gun control, drug rehabilitation, employment opportunities, and early intervention for abused and mentally handicapped children. This alternative accomplishes the same goal as does the death penalty, it removes convicted murderers from society forever, or at least during the years when they would pose a threat to others. Despite the obvious advantages that life without parole has over the death penalty, 75 to 80 percent of the American public in recent polls appears to support capital punishment. The reasons why Americans still have this opinion is that, first, crime- especially shocking, violent, murderous crime- is an emotional issue. Second, alternatives to the death penalty are sometimes difficult to explain. Third, it is easier for politicians and other orators to shout "Death Penalty!" than it is for them to shout "Life in prison without the possibility of parole!" And fourth, the public still doesn't believe that the criminal justice system will keep violent criminals out of society for more than a few years. It is obvious that if Americans became generally aware of life without the possibility of parole as a viable means of punishing violent criminals, the death penalty would not be featured so prominently in our national discourse. We simply have too many doubts about capital punishment. America may now be ready to abandon the death penalty. Once Americans are given a choice, they strongly prefer alternative sentences to the death penalty.
If the death penalty is the ultimate human rights violation, the United States must be cast into that objectionable status of human rights violator- grouped together with certain other nations who we feel execute people for unjust causes. If the United States is to champion human rights around the world, it must have its own house in order. We recognize torture as a violation of the Eigth Amendment, but not the ultimate torture, the threat of death and actual execution. Death by legal injection, firing squad, and electric chair are all punishments that are exceptionally cruel and barbaric and have no place in modern society. Morally and legally, we are on the wrong side of this issue. The ultimate problem is that factual, legal, and moral error created a system that we know must wrongly kill some defendants, a system that fails to deliver the fair, consistent, and reliable sentences of death required by the Constitution. In 1972, in Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional as administered because there was no meaningful basis for deciding who lived and who died. The highest courts in two states recognized the basic flaw of myriad mitigating factors in the death penalty. In 1972, the Supreme Court of California ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional under the state constitution. The California constitution banned "cruel or unusual punishment," while the U.S. Constitution bans "cruel and unusual punishment." Noting this distinction, the California Supreme Court found the death penalty cruel, and outlawed its use. Later, responding to public pressure, California passed an amendment to its constitution that reinstated the death penalty. In the ordinary meaning of the words, the death sentence is undoubtedly a cruel punishment. Death is a cruel penalty and the legal processes, which necessarily involve waiting in uncertainty for the sentence to be set aside or carried out, add to the cruelty. It has been accepted by the United States Supreme Court that the concept of human dignity is at the core of the prohibition of 'cruel and unusual punishment' by the Eigth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The death penalty is essentially an arbitrary punishment. This lack of objective, measurable standards ensure that the application of the death penalty will be discriminatory against racial, gender, and ethnic groups. Who receives the death penalty has less to do with the violence of the crime than with the color of the criminal's skin or, more often, the color of the victim's skin. A terrible truth is that bias and discrimination warp our nation's judicial system at the very time it matters most, in matters of life and death. The factors that determine who will live and who will die- race, sex, and geography- are the very same ones that blind justice was meant to ignore. Murders committed in certain regions of our country are much more likely to result in the death penalty than are murders in other regions. The southern states are host to a disproportionate percentage of executions. These states account for 26 percent of our nation's population, but these states have carried out 83 percent of our nation's executions since 1976. In contrast, the northeastern states have a much larger population, generally lower murder rates, and accounted for only two executions, or less than 1 percent of the executions since 1976. Texas- which accounts for little more than 6 percent of the nation's population- has executed 106 death row inmates, or 32 percent of the national total. Despite this liberal use of the death penalty, the state's murder rate is 25 percent higher than the national average. Thus, after 20 years of the highest rate of execution in the country, Texas continues to outpace the rest of the country in its rate of murder. This explodes the myth of capital punishment being an effective deterrent. One surprise for many people is that more white defendants than black defendants have been executed. Since 1976, 56 percent of the condemned prisoners executed have been white, 38 percent have been black, and 6 percent have been Hispanic, Native American, or Asian. It is not just the race of the defendant that affects the state's decision of whether to seek the death penalty and whether it is meted out. The race of the victim can have an even stronger influence. It has been determined that the race of the murderer was less important than the race of the victim. Astoundingly, African Americans who murder whites are 19 times as likely to be executed as whites who kill blacks. Since 1976, only four white defendants have been executed for killing a black person, yet 75 black defendants have been executed for murdering a white person. One person at a time, our judicial system is telling us that African American life is less important than white life, and its annihilation less tragic. Our judicial system is demonstrably, institutionally racist in the end result, and the end result- killing a disproportionate number of black males- matters.
It's too simplistic to say that the death penalty discourages people from committing murder or that eliminating the death penalty would drive the homicide rate up. Deterrence has emerged as the only morally palatable argument for the death penalty. Deterrence theory is predicated on the seemingly common sense notion that the possibility of receiving the death penalty will deter would be killers, whereas the possibility of receiving a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole will not. Many proponents of the deterrence principle truly want to believe that greater and swifter use of the death penalty will save innocent lives. Proponents of capital punishment have long argued that only the threat of the death penalty can protect police officers by deterring criminals from using deadly weapons to commit crimes or to resist arrest. Opponents of the death penalty believe in the brutalization theory. Believers in the brutalization theory believes that by devaluing human life and sanctioning an official policy of vengeance, the death penalty actually increases the violence in society and the murder rate. The violence of officially sponsored state executions brutalizes the sensibilities of society and actually increases the murder rate by loosening the inhibitions of potential murderers and offering the example of sanctioned vengeance. Eliminating the death penalty will not check the flow of handguns or illegal drugs into our communities, nor will it create new jobs or offer a glimmer of hope to the desperate and dispossessed. No one solution will reduce the terrifying rate of violent crime in urban centers across the country. The difference between accepting the deterrence principle and accepting the brutalization principle, however, is the burden of proof each requires society to bear.
Jesse Jackson has written a well organized and easy to read book that calls for an end to the death penalty. I was thoroughly entertained and interested in the many points and arguments he makes, as well as moved by the passion he showed in his beliefs. Before reading this book, I was uncertain of whether or not the death penalty is a just and fair action of justice. Now, after reading his book, I am certain that the death penalty is morally and legally wrong. The moral responsibility in deciding the fate of another human being is simply too great. I agree with Jesse Jackson, justice, not revenge, is the proper role for government. Who are we to say that this person shall be killed but not another person? It is not our position to judge. The only possible justification for the death penalty is vengeance, but the Lord says, "Vengeance is mine." The government should not be in the business of revenge. The alternative of life in prison without the possibility of parole is a much better option than the death penalty. There is a chance of an innocent person being killed by the death penalty, the alternative of life without parole gives the person an opportunity to prove his innocence. As Voltaire has said, "it is better to risk saving a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one." Back to top...