When Nicolas Cruz, who killed the 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was in the news recently, he was about to be sentenced. The choices were the death penalty or life without parole. And that generated a buzz around the country regarding the pros and cons of the death penalty.
Most people think that he deserves to die after what he did. It would be hard to not feel that way. But wouldn’t killing him, make us all murderers. You may say that we are not individually injecting the lethal dose; it’s the state or county or federal government that does the actual killing. But don’t they represent us, making us all culpable?
Most of us have the capacity to feel the urge to kill. It’s the ability to control that urge that is the mark of a civilized person and by extension––a civilized society. I remember times when I felt as if I could kill––the brutal behavior of the bully down the street when we were growing up, a couple of fellows on dates during college years who couldn’t understand the word No, the patronizing misogny by men that many of us felt when entering the workforce as young women in the 1950s and ‘60s, and even today seeing anyone mistreat animals or children or the downtrodden. I may have the urge to kill, but I don’t act on it. The only time I would condone it is in self-defense or to protect my family.
Just as we as citizens of a civilized society shouldn’t kill, neither should civilized society. There are many reasons pro and con regarding the death penalty, but I come down on the side against. There are more than 117 nations worldwide that have done away with it. In 1976, the United States reinstated it, putting us in company with Iran, Iraq, and China. Hmm! I can think of many other countries I’d rather be aligned with.
My main argument against the death penalty is that innocent lives are lost. Since 1976, 138 men and women have been released from death row. Some were released within minutes of execution, which begs the question of how many were not saved who were innocent. This information is from an article by Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. I have no doubt that men and women have been executed who were innocent, which is absolutely, totally, morally wrong. I feel it is a risk we should not take.
Also, not everyone is treated equal in this country. It is not inconceivable that being the wrong color, being poor, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or having poor counsel that results in an inadequate defense could land an innocent person on death row.
And it’s so expensive to maintain a death row and to go through the endless appeals process. “In Oregon, in 2000, a fiscal impact summary from the Oregon Department of Administrative Services stated that the Oregon Judicial Department alone would save $2.3 million annually if the death penalty were eliminated. It is estimated that total prosecution and defense costs to the state and counties equal $9 million per year.“ This is according to Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. If that is what the cost was 22 years ago, then I’m sure it’s much more today. And I can think of far more positive ways to spend that money.
I also am concerned about the corrections officers that administer the lethal dose. Nobody should be asked to kill another person as part of their job description, even if it is considered legal. I would not be surprised if these folks have high rates of PTSD and suicide.
The only pro-death penalty argument I ever considered to make sense besides the eye-for-an-eye vengeance one is that it will deter crime. But study after study has shown that not to be true. In our country, there are states without the death penalty that have lower murder rates than neighboring states with the death penalty.
After doing some serious thinking about the death penalty, I have not changed my mind. After researching a variety of sources, it has only made me more convinced. And I would think for a young person like Nicolas Cruz with his whole life ahead of him that life in prison without parole would be even worse than the death penalty.