This past Wednesday the state of Texas executed its 500th prisoner since the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was Constitutional in 1976. The landmark was a cause for introspection by some about the necessity and the efficacy of the death penalty as justice, punishment, and deterrent.
In 1997 Kimberly McCarthy was convicted of robbing and murdering her 71-year-old neighbor. The robbery of the neighbor’s jewelry is what eventually led to McCarthy’s arrest and conviction. It was brutal crime that outraged the state.
Use of the death penalty is on the decline here in the United States, even in Texas which leads the nation in executions has executed more people than it has sentenced to death every year for the last eight. Just four states accounted for 75% of the executions in the United States last year.
This current trend in the US lines up with what we see happening all over the world. Most of our allies and friends in the Western world have outlawed the death penalty in their own nations. In fact, one of the requirements to gain access in the European Union is that the nation applying has abolished the death penalty. Conversely, besides the USA, the nations that still employ the death penalty are a who’s who of bad guys – like China, North Korea, and most hard line Islamic nations.
In the United States, 32 states still have the ability to use the death penalty in certain cases, but 18 have outlawed its practice. Among the 32 that still have the ability it’s use varies widely – for example, Texas leads the way with 500 since 1976, but Pennsylvania has only used it 3 times during the same period.
The above reasons are often cited by death penalty opponents as reasons to abolish the practice, but I don’t think the argument is convincing on it’s own.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that trouble me about the use of the death penalty in America though.
In the United States, blacks and whites are murdered in about equal numbers, but about 80% of the people executed since 1976 were convicted for the murders of white people. A disproportionate amount of those executed were black, and about 1 in 5 blacks execute were convicted by a jury without blacks.
There is a definite racial and geographic bias in our nation as it pertains to use of the death penalty, and that to me is a cause for great concern. Can justice truly be given if it is not meted out in a just way? I am not advocating a ban on the death penalty, but I think that we most certainly must reevaluate our methods of decision-making on deciding who should or should not be executed.
Justice it too important a part of our national DNA to allow the system to be corrupted by prejudice, bigotry or geography – we must strive for perfection as it pertains to justice.