When I was young, I lived in a community surrounded by fundamental religious people of different Christian denominations. They were convinced that “eye for an eye” was something that was written in the Bible only once, and that it excused capital punishment. I believed them. I also believed the Texan mindset that capital punishment is just and deters crime. This all lasted up until I was in college. Once I was there, I gained the tools I needed to look at issues a little bit more critically.
I don’t mean for this post to become some sort of political rant. Instead, I want to tell you how I progressed from being okay — meaning comfortable and not giving it a second thought — to being opposed to capital punishment. First, the way I understand the United States legal system is that it is designed to prevent an innocent person from being punished more than preventing a guilty person from walking free. It’s not like in Mexico, for example, where you are taken to jail under the suspicion of having done something and the burden is more on you to prove your innocence than on the state to prove your guilt. There, the system is designed to prevent a guilty person from walking more than in preventing an innocent person from being imprisoned.
The problem with this is that the system is not perfect. As the “Innocence Project” and others have shown, people in the US can and will be wrongfully convicted, with some of them being sentenced to death. If that innocent person is put to death, there is no way of correcting that mistake. In essence, I’d rather have a person be imprisoned for life so that they can be released if it turns out that they were wrongfully convicted. You can’t really release a body into freedom.
My second opposition to the death penalty is that it silences the prisoner once and for all. This is troubling to me in times when we are more and more connected, and more and more ideas are out floating in the “ether”. You know I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but it is not out of the realm of possibilities that a person who is “talking too much” can be falsely convicted of a capital crime and thus silenced forever. Dead men don’t talk, after all.
My final opposition is on ethical grounds as someone who works in public health and in healthcare. I do not want the government that I elect and participate in killing people. Period.
I do see where the death penalty may be a deterrent to serious crimes in a perfect world. But this is not a perfect world and the evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent is sketchy. The families of the victims want retribution, but retribution is something that collapses societies. What they need is justice, and I’m saying this from the point of view of someone who has lost several friends and family to very violent crimes. I’m comfortable knowing that those monsters are removed from society for a very, very long time, and that they will have to carry around their actions forever.
As I’ve always said, this is all easier said than done. Like any other subject of such a serious nature, the answers will not be easy, and the implementation of said answers will not go swiftly and painlessly.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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