The Republicanization of America: Capital Punishment

This week, the legislature of Utah, a state that is practically a Mormon theocracy and projects an image that is similar to that of Disneyland on steroids, passed a bill that would again make legal the use of firing squads to carry out executions. The reason they did that is because pharmaceutical companies located in other countries who used to sell us the drugs we use to carry out executions are refusing to sell their drugs, which they produce in order to save lives, to us if we are going to use them to take lives.

In other words, Big Pharma is more moral than our society. Let that sink in for a moment.

Our country is barbaric, and we should be ashamed of ourselves. Last year, a couple of executions were horribly botched. That would be a cause of concern almost everywhere else in the civilized world. But here, in the United States of America – land of the free and home of the brave – many people actually cheered and said something profoundly stupid like, “Well, imagine how his victim felt.” The sad thing is, they imagine they sound intelligent and caring, when they actually come off as cold and heartless. Using the state to kill anyone, even someone who killed someone else, is solemn. It’s an awesome responsibility that we should take with immense gravity.

The aim of a civil and fair society cannot be based on the Old Testament “eye for an eye” concept. Our justice system cannot be based on vengeance; in fact, our Constitution even forbids it.

In one of those botched executions last year, the inmate actually died of a heart attack after officials with the state of Oklahoma horribly botched his execution. According to eyewitnesses, Clayton Lockett’s killing was stopped after about 20 minutes because one of the executioners reported “an issue with a vein.” While he lay on the gurney unconscious, he reportedly began writhing. He was finally pronounced dead 43 minutes after the execution began.

Back in January 2014, the Ohio execution of convicted killer Dennis McGuire took about 25 minutes and resulted in his choking and gasping for breath before he finally died.

That’s where the drug thing comes in. The drug midazolam was used in both botched executions. Over the last few years, drug makers who object to their wares being used to kill people hs caused a number of states to scramble to find something to kill inmates with that isn’t cruel or unusual. Why do more people not find that barbaric? Our government is looking for better and more efficient ways to kill people after making them stay in prisons for dozens of years waiting for it? Does that sound like something a civilized country does? Obviously not, because we’re one of only a handful of industrialized nations who permit capital punishment. Most of our peers ban such a thing, and won’t even extradite someone to a country that might kill them. (Source)

The overall number of executions is on the decline and support for capital punishment is at its lowest point since 1972, but still most Americans still support the practice, even in light of the increasing number of botched executions, which will only increase when Utah starts shooting people. Since no death row inmate has escaped from prison in decades, what’s the point of capital punishment, except to satisfy a primal bloodlust.

Did we want to be in the same class on this as China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia? Those five countries and the United States accounted for nearly 90% of all executions worldwide. Can’t we be better than that? What does our society gain from executing our citizens? It’s not about justice, since they never escape from prison. And we know the death penalty isn’t a deterrent, since our murder rate is higher than every other country that has banned it. In fact, the 32 states with a death penalty generally have higher murder rates than the 18 states that have banned capital punishment.

Capital punishment is about revenge and blood lust, and neither of those concepts is rational. Individuals can’t always be rational on matters such as murder, but shouldn’t our justice system at least attempt to work from a basis of rationality? It’s not rational for a society to force its politicians to embrace capital punishment, or risk their jobs by being called “soft on crime.” One thing has nothing to do with the other. While I understand that the victim’s loved ones want revenge, society has an obligation to act more rationally. Law shouldn’t be based on emotion.

It’s also important to note that, as well as proving that we are one of the most bloodthirsty nations on the planet, we are now proving that there is no way to execute someone cleanly, in a way that is not cruel and unusual. It’s time to end this bloody period in our history. This isn’t the Middle Ages, it’s the 21st Century. It’s well past time we stopped executing people. Throw them in prison and make sure they never get out.

The only way to stop botching executions is to stop executing. We should be seeking justice, not revenge.

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