By J.T. Buchheit
For a little under five years, the United States was doing something right. From 1972 through 1976, the death penalty was suspended by the Supreme Court due to the case of Furman v. Georgia. But on July 2, 1976, after the decision of Gregg v. Georgia, the country took a giant step backward and has yet to recover.
Killing people who commit murder is an abhorrent act that does nothing to control the problem of senseless violence in America today. It’s extremely telling how misguided society is when the antiquated metaphor “an eye for an eye” is seen as the way to solve heinous criminal acts. Does murdering a person who murdered another person really solve anything? All the statistics say no.
There is no evidence that the death penalty deters crime; in fact, some criminologists, such as Northeastern University’s William Bowers, say it has the opposite effect in that the death penalty gives society a more violent appearance, leading to more murders being committed. Life imprisonment is a much better alternative. While there has not been any concrete evidence relating its deterrence to that of capital punishment, the general thought is that is at least as effective as the death penalty in that regard, as well as not having near the risks capital punishment possesses.
So far in 2015, six people previously sentenced to death have been exonerated. While innocent people have certainly been given life sentences, they can still be released if evidence suggesting their innocence shows up. This isn’t the case with the death penalty. One cannot simply be revived if new data casting doubt on their guilt is uncovered after the execution.
Another reason life imprisonment is a better solution is because of the punishment’s effects on both the offender and the family and friends of the deceased. While those close to the victim may feel vindicated for a short period of time when receiving news of and watching the execution, the fact is that when the offender is dead, they’re free of all the suffering they would have to endure in prison. If a family wants a killer to suffer, the person convicted should be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Another issue is the disproportionate application of the death penalty toward African-Americans. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, African-Americans have made up 43 percent of those executed since 1976 and 55 percent of those currently on death row, despite the fact that African-Americans make up only 13.2 percent of the U.S. population. The race of the victim also plays a crucial role in whether a person will be given the death penalty. Approximately 50 percent of murder victims are Caucasian, but in cases that led to a death sentence, 76 percent of the victims were Caucasian, as opposed to just 15 percent of the victims who were African-American.
With the recent execution of Marcus Ray Johnson in Georgia, the American death craze shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. If we want to progress as a society, we need to get past this barbaric punishment.