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Why do we still use the death penalty in the United States?

Tim Pierce

I’ve never understood the logic behind the death penalty. We kill people to teach that killing people is wrong. It’s doesn’t add up for me. And I can not wrap my head around the idea that humans are allowed to dictate whether or not another human can live - even if they did something horrific and worthy of extreme punishment. In my opinion, sentencing someone to the death penalty is inhumane.  

My opinion was put to the test last week, with the news of the Boston Marathon verdict.

By no means do I want to discredit the heartache and pain that was caused in the city of Boston two years ago, or perpetuate the suffering that has persisted with the media's attention on this case. But, when I heard the news last Friday that Dzhokhar Tsaranev was sentenced to death for the Boston Marathon bombing, I had a weird feeling in my stomach. It didn’t feel like the right thing to do. And it didn’t seem like Boston, a city with so much compassion and heart, would feel good about that decision either. 

And apparently they do not. According to the Boston Globe, Bostonians overwhelmingly opposed the death penalty in this case. With the most recent poll stating that just 15 percent of Boston residents and 19 percent of Massachusetts residents wanted this verdict. (Compared to 60 percent of Americans who wanted to see Tsarnaev get the death penalty).

Writing this article is not easy and I definitely have some conflicting emotions, as Boston holds a very special place in my heart. My Dad and his entire side of the family are from Boston and I grew up dreaming of going to college there. After the first time I went to visit, I fell in love with the city. I ended up going to Northeastern University and living there for four amazing years. I think most people who have lived in Boston would agree that there’s something truly special and unique about it. It really captures your heart. Even after I moved to NYC, my connection to Boston stayed strong. A lot of the people who I love most in this world live in the greater Boston area and many of them were near or crossing the finish line on that awful day two years ago. 

As soon as the verdict was announced, a friend from Boston wrote to me saying that she felt uneasy about the decision. I was having a similar reaction. She explained that she was having a hard time differentiating between justice and vengeance in a case like this. She commented on how she felt sad for the jury - how they must be so emotionally destroyed from this case. She expressed that she was feeling torn, as many Bostonians are, between animosity towards the person who did this and seeking justice. 

To me, the death penalty does not serve justice. 

Amnesty International made a statement following the verdict that articulates my feelings well. Steven W. Hawkins, the executive director of Amnesty International USA stated:

"We condemn the bombings that took place in Boston two years ago, and we mourn the loss of life and grave injuries they caused. The death penalty, however, is not justice. It will only compound the violence, and it will not deter others from committing similar crimes in the future.It is outrageous that the federal government imposes this cruel and inhuman punishment, particularly when the people of Massachusetts have abolished it in their state. As death sentences decline worldwide, no government can claim to be a leader in human rights when it sentences its prisoners to death."

The Amnesty International website states that the death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. I couldn’t agree more. I believe the death penalty is wrong for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s a denial of human rights. Plain and simple. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights ensures that every human being has the right to life. And although I understand that when someone has decided to abuse that right and take someone’s life, like Tsarnev did, they should be punished. But killing that person to set an example that killing is wrong will never solve the problem. 

Also, the argument that the death penalty is a deterrent is not valid and has been discredited over and over again. According to Amnesty International, there is no evidence showing that the death penalty is any more effective in reducing crime than imprisonment is. While not relevant to this specific case, another reason I don’t believe in the death penalty is that our criminal justice system is not infallible. And execution is an irreversible punishment. There have been plenty of people sent to death row who have later been exonerated for their crimes. That point alone seems to me like a good enough reason to abolish the death penalty. 

That being said, most countries in the world have already made that decision. As of 2012, 140 countries around the world have abolished the death penalty. The United States is among the minority of countries that still uses this form of punishment. As a developed country that claims to stand for ideals of freedom and justice, it’s hard to believe that we haven’t progressed beyond this inhumane practice. This shows me that as I talk about global development, ending poverty, and improving the rights of people around the world, that there is still improvement needed at all economic levels. The United States has one of the world's leading economies and is considered to be among the most developed. Still engaging in the death penalty shows that development is not complete. The world needs all nations to protect human rights, and the countries that don't- rich or poor- should be pressured by global citizens to improve.

As I said earlier, the concept of the death penalty just doesn’t make sense to me. While I think those who disregard human life need to face consequences, I believe the death penalty is a hypocritical solution to the problem. After all, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, right?