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Douglas: It’s time to abolish the death penalty

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Douglas: It’s time to abolish the death penalty

Sam Douglas, Columnist

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It is high time that executions in the United States be ended. Are we so anachronistic that we must support the killing of our fellow citizens?

On April 29, Clayton Lockett was executed in Oklahoma with an untested drug cocktail — one that could not kill him because of a collapsed vein at the injection site. Lockett “struggled violently, groaned and writhed, lifting his shoulders and head from the gurney,” according to an article in the Guardian, and died 43 minutes after the initial injection. In light of this, we must question our use of this tool as punishment and deterrent.

Amnesty International USA cited the botched execution as “one of the starkest examples yet of why the death penalty must be abolished.” The leader of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said the state had “tortured a human being in an unconstitutional experimental act of evil.”

Supporting their arguments with suggestions that death row is more comfortable than some people’s tough lives outside of prison, or that the prepared meals and structured schedule hardly provide a deterrent for prospective murderers, people in power have made claims about necessity of capital punishment. One of these individuals, Tennesse Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, stated in December 2013 that “in order to protect innocent human life from sociopaths and predators, we as a society must have the moral courage to take action” in the form of mixing our death potions and practicing for ourselves the skilled and oxymoronic art of killing killers.

I do not deny that the people on death row must be imprisoned and punished, but I am deeply troubled by the claim that the only way to protect innocent life is for these murderers themselves to be killed. Why should we lower our moral standards to those of people we deem fit for imprisonment? The eye-for-an-eye argument may have worked with Hammurabi, but why should we be content living in a society three thousand years later in which the same philosophy holds sway? Have we not grown?

Of course, the grief a family feels with the loss of a loved one at the hands of another human cannot be underestimated: I cannot imagine it and I hope that I never have to experience it. For some of these people, execution is a final solace and vengeance. However, many families find the death penalty complicates the grieving process, keeping them trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of  trials and appeals, often lasting two decades or more. Why not spend the hundreds of millions of dollars devoted to capital punishment on helping families deal with their grief and healing? In California alone, taxpayers pay $90,000 more per year for a prisoner on death row than they do for one who is not sentenced to die. What if our court system provided victim support for families affected by these heinous crimes?

According to Amnesty International, 140 countries worldwide have abolished or do not practice capital punishment. In Europe, the only country that continues to employ the death penalty is Belarus. What will it take for the United States to reach a similar appreciation for human life?

Must we have the “moral courage” to execute criminals? I believe moral courage comes not in thirsting for vengeful bloodletting, but in recognition of a person’s humanity, no matter how beneath one’s morals he or she appears to be. It is not courage to exact revenge; it is courage to acknowledge someone’s right to life even when he or she has fallen short at the expense of others.

Sam Douglas is a Communication sophomore. He can be reached at samueldouglas2016@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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