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Home: Playing and Taboo
Dragoons of Cultural Fantasy
It Possible To Teach Peace?
of Kindness, Love & Grace
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(We Become What We Hate. . . )
The Death Penalty and Racism
The evidence is overwhelming that the death penalty is applied in a racially-bigoted manner. In 1990, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported to the Congress the results of its review of empirical studies on racism and the death penalty. The GAO concluded: Our synthesis of the 28 studies shows a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty . . . and that race of victim influence was found at all stages of the criminal justice system process.
The U.S. Congress has repeatedly failed to pass the Racial Justice Act, which would allow prisoners to challenge their death sentences using standards normal in civil racial discrimination cases.
The Death Penalty and Poverty
No state has met standards developed by the American Bar Association for appointment, performance and compensation of counsel for indigent prisoners. A defendants poverty, lack of firm social roots in the community, inadequate legal representation at trial or on appealall these have been common factors among death row populations.
Prisoner Appeals Have Been Curtailed
In 1996, new legislation drastically limited federal court review of death penalty appeals and gutted public funding of legal aid services for death row prisoners.
American Bar Association Calls for Moratorium on the Death Penalty
Sister Helen Prejean, who wrote the #1 best-seller book, Dead Man Walking, asked C. Paul Phelps, the head of the Louisiana Department of Corrections, what he believes was accomplished by the execution of Pat Sonnier, a person to whom she was giving spiritual direction. Phelps said, Zero. Absolutely nothing. Nor does Mr. Phelps think that executions prevent crime. As he sees it, the criminal justice system produces the death penalty when it is to the advantage of the prosecution. He explains how D.A.s weigh a number of factorsthe cost of the trial, the evidence, the expertise of the legal defense against them. Phelps continued, . . . especially if they kill somebody important, then they push for the death penalty, but not if the person you kill is a nobody. By its nature, the criminal justice system will always be somewhat arbitrary.
The Death Penalty is Expensive
For All Its Expense, The Death Penalty Is Not Proven to Deter Crime
Death penalty states, as a group, do not have lower rates of criminal homicide than non-death penalty states. During the 1980s, death penalty states averaged an annual rate of 7.5 criminal homicides per 100,000 of population; abolition states averaged a rate of 7.4.
Virtually All Western Democracies Have Eliminated the Death Penalty
Nicaragua, despite enduring one of the cruelest dictatorships in Latin American history, and losing over 50,000 lives during the revolution in 1979, ended the death penalty as a revolutionary act of forgiveness. Tomas Borge, who was mercilessly tortured in prison during the revolution, outlawed the death penalty after becoming Secretary of the Interior for the new Sandinista Government. Likewise, in South Africa, an important objective of the new post-Apartheid constitution was to end the death penalty.
If any group of people had a right to state-sanctioned executions, it was the Nicaraguans and South Africans. Yet, despite their pain, they saw their way out of the never-ending tunnel of revenge and executions. Why cant we Americans learn from their experience?
Perry Johnson, retired director of the Michigan Department of Corrections and former president of the American Correctional Association, encourages the United States to end the death penalty. We, as a civilized people, should not kill even the most heinous of criminals. It has a brutalizing effect on the public which imposes it. The ultimate message we give by enacting this penalty is that it is alright to kill out of anger or for vengeance. But that, as it happens, is what every unrepentant murderer I have ever known believes.
Why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing is wrong? Its a strange question born of barbaric circumstances. When we kill, because they killed, we become what we hatemurderers. Revenge killing permanently lowers every single standard we valueas individuals, as a nation, as a culture.
Who will end the killing?
Dennis Godby is the Education Coordinator for the Oregon Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Dennis is also currently pursuing studies to become a naturopathic physician. He is a member of Saint Andrews Catholic community. He may be reached at (503) 774-6160 or by email.