No human being deserves the death penalty, not even the Boston bomber.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty of conspiring with his older brother Tamerlan in the Boston Marathon bombing and its violent aftermath. Even though his crimes are horrific, he should not be executed.
Capital punishment, with its troubling origins, and the corrupt, unjust, capricious and racially biased manner in which it is administered, has been a bad American habit through history.
Under slavery, the death penalty was part of a police state that exerted social control over black people to prevent them from rising up or fleeing the plantation. The Slave Codes imposed it for blacks for offenses where whites received lesser sentences or no punishment at all.
After slavery, lynching became commonplace as a form of extrajudicial killing. Mob violence was ultimately legitimized through the modern death penalty system.
Over the past 40 years, 152 innocent men and women have been exonerated after spending an average of 11 years on death row. African-Americans and Latinos are the majority, wrongfully convicted due to prosecutorial misconduct, witness misidentification, coerced confessions and other systemic issues.
Proponents of lethal injection had promised a humane form of execution. But this has proven illusory, as shown by reports of inmates choking to death and writhing in agony in the execution chamber.
“There is discussion in some quarters about the method of killing, as if it were possible to find ways of ‘getting it right,’” Pope Francis has recently said, adding, “The death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.” And Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Massachusetts Roman Catholic bishops have stated that the death penalty for Tsarnaev would be against the church’s teachings.
Meanwhile, states are faced with a shortage of the drugs used for lethal injections, as the European Union has imposed an embargo on such chemicals, and the American Pharmacists Association has urged its members to stop providing drugs for use in executions.
Some states have resorted to extraordinarily gruesome measures and backup plans. Utah has returned to the firing squad when lethal injection drugs are unavailable. The Alabama House of Representatives voted to reinstate the electric chair, and the Tennessee Supreme Court will review that state’s attempt to bring back that method of execution. In Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a law that will allow asphyxiation by nitrogen gas.
How low can we go? Shall we return to stoning, crucifying, hanging, beheading, boiling in oil or drawing and quartering?
The death penalty is pure vengeance. Even executing terrorists such as Tsarnaev only perpetuates a cycle of violence by allowing the government to stoop to the level of murder in the name of justice.
David A. Love is a freelance writer and human rights advocate based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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