Deadline for entries is Feb 1st, 2007. The TSADP Essay Contest is open to all 11th and 12th grade Texas high school students. To participate, you must write an essay explaining why a moratorium on executions is necessary in Texas. Essays are judged on both style and content. The winning essay must demonstrate an outstanding grasp of the death penalty system in Texas. Complete contest guidelines are available on the Web site.
Texas Death Penalty Moratorium: The Time for Action is now
Early in the morning of December 2, 2005, Kenneth Boyd marched from his dimly lit cell in Raleigh, North Carolina, toward a small room dominated by a reclining table and an apparatus for delivering a lethal combination of various poisons. After lying down, a doctor inserted a tube into his arm and stepped back. His last words were to his wife, Kathy Smith, “Look after my son and my grandchildren. God bless everybody in here.” Shortly after that, at 2:15 a.m., he was dead. As the fatal dose of chemicals entered his bloodstream, Kenneth Boyd became the 1,000th person to be executed in the United States since the death penalty’s reinstatement in 1976. With so many deaths over so many years, America has joined the company of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.[i] Even worse, the death penalty itself has multiple problems, including the ingraining of socially counterproductive values, its unfair application, and the risk of executing innocent people.
By far, the most common argument for the death penalty is that executing criminals deters future aggression. However, the overwhelming amount of evidence suggests just the opposite.[ii] For instance, California experienced a drastic drop in the murder rate while the death penalty was not carried out. From 1907 to 1963, New York encountered more homicides in the month immediately following an execution than before. In addition, the FBI Uniform Crime Report shows that police officers are most in danger in regions where executions are most common.[iii] Why do people commit more crimes in response to executions? The answer to that question lies in what the government communicates through executions. First, it sends the message that the most acceptable answer to offenses is by using violence. Second, the government communicates that vengeance is just. Finally, executions convince people that the government decides who lives and who dies. Inevitably, these three signals induce people to commit more crimes and detest authority. Therefore, not only does the death penalty fail to deter crime, but it actually brutalizes the population into acquiring socially counterproductive values.
In addition, the death penalty is applied unfairly. For instance, 202 African American defendants have been executed for the murders of white victims while only twelve white defendants have received a death sentence for the murder of African Americans.[iv] The logical conclusion from this is that the government values a white life over a black life. Furthermore, there is a significant economic bias. For example, almost all defendants facing the death penalty cannot afford their own legal fees. State-provided attorneys are often inexperienced, unpaid, and have absolutely no motivation to fight hard. As a result, the current death row population is comprised of a disproportionate number of economically disadvantaged people.[v] In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that the system of executions was “arbitrary and capricious” in Furman v. Georgia.[vi] Although the court later reversed that view, the death penalty in America remains an enemy to unity and equality because it condemns humans to death based on economic status and race.
Finally, the risk of executing an innocent person far outweighs any benefits. Almost 125 people have been released from death row since 1976.[vii] This means that one inmate has been taken off death row for roughly every eight people executed. In addition, the government is often unwilling to review capital cases in order to save time and money, leaving the burden of proving innocence to those outside the system. For instance, journalism students in Illinois were recently assigned to investigate a person on death row. After doing some detective work, they discovered that one of the witnesses had lied at the trial and they uncovered the true killer, who confessed on videotape.[viii] The media has also convinced states to exonerate people on death row in several instances, such as the case of Walter McMillian, who was slated to be executed in Alabama.[ix] However, neither the media nor the informal efforts of concerned citizens can possibly review all of the death row cases. This means that the American public must simply have faith in the criminal justice system, which has already proven itself to be ineffective and prejudiced.
As Kenneth Boyd, closed his eyes for the final time, justice breathed its last breath alongside him. It died because the government sent a message of violence and hypocrisy to its citizens. It died because of the unfair, prejudiced judicial system. It died because the government risked killing an innocent person. Even more, it was all so unavoidable. It is time for our government, which claims to be “of the people, for the people, and by the people” to safeguard the lives of all its citizens and resurrect justice once and for all.
[i] See “US Carries Out 1000th Execution,” British Broadcasting Channel Website, 2 Dec. 2005
[ii] See the Michigan State University Comm Tech Lab’s Death Penalty Information Center for the High School Curriculum, “Deterrence,” 2004 http://deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu/c/about/arguments/argument1b.htm. Note: Like the rest of the endnotes here, this is the specific source information. For the general reference to the source, see Works Cited.
[iii] For more general information, see “Facts about Deterrence and the Death Penalty,” Death Penalty Information Center, 2006, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?scid=12&did=167. The two sources are cited on that page.
[iv] See the Michigan State University Comm Tech Lab’s Death Penalty Information Center for the High School Curriculum, “Arbitrariness and Discrimination,” 2004 http://deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu/c/about/arguments/argument1b.htm
[v] See “The Death Penalty in Texas: Lethal Injustice,” Online Documentation Archive. 1 Mar. 1998. Amnesty International, http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/ENGAMR510101998. Note: See pages’ endnotes for original references.
[vi] See “ACLU Briefing Paper Number 8: Death Penalty.” Department of Public Education Archives, American Civil Liberties Union, http://www.eff.org/Censorship/Academic_edu/CAF/civil-liberty/death-penalty.aclu
[vii] For more general information, see “Innocence and the Death Penalty,” Death Penalty Information Center, 2006, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?did=412&scid=6. The source is cited on the page.
[viii] See the Michigan State University Comm Tech Lab’s Death Penalty Information Center for the High School Curriculum, “Innocence (In Opposition),” 2004
[ix] See “News and Developments,” Death Penalty Information Center, 2006, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/newsanddev.php?scid=6. Article originally appeared in National Geographic Magazine, January 2006 Edition.