Posted by CAL on Friday, May 2, 2008 at 10:34pm.
Capital Punishment Does Not Make Nation Safer
Identify and name any rhetorical devices used by the author. If none exist, explain how you determined this.
Until his death in 2003, Paul Simon was a professor at Southern Illinois University, where he taught classes in political science, history, and journalism, and served as director of the Public Policy Institute, which he founded. A Democrat from Illinois, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1974 and the U.S. Senate in 1984, retiring in 1996.
It is not wise for the United States to have capital punishment. Other democratic societies consider the death penalty uncivilized, and capital punishment harms the United States' reputation as a human rights leader. Retaining capital punishment comes at a great cost—economically, morally, and judicially—and is not necessary to protect the country's citizens.
Just a couple of comments: one on the moral issue.
The field of theology and the field of faith grow. There is no condemnation in the Bible of capital punishment. There is no condemnation in the Bible of slavery. As a matter of fact, Saint Paul was quoted regularly from the book of Philemon in the defense of slavery, but gradually we have come to appreciate that slavery really is a moral issue. On the constitutional question, we also grow in that field. Now, there are dangers in that, obviously. You don't want to move from the fundamentals, but Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, ... said, "separate but equal" doesn't violate the Constitution. We gradually came to realize that equal protection really had to say that we can't discriminate in school attendance, and then beyond school attendance into many other fields. But I think the basic question that we face is not: is it moral or is it unconstitutional; the question is, is it wise?
Let's take a look at who has the death penalty. Western Europe does not have the death penalty. When Turkey recently applied for admission to the European Union, the committee of the European Union that made a recommendation against Turkey's admission ... gave as one of the two principal reasons that "Turkey retains the barbaric practice of capital punishment." Canada and Mexico have abandoned the death penalty. The European Parliament passed a resolution urging the United States to abandon the death penalty. An internationally circulated magazine says, "Throughout Europe in particular, the death penalty is thought of as simply uncivilized." The practice is thought to be particularly problematic for a leading nation. After all, German Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin has argued, "The Americans do not hesitate, proud as they are of their democratic tradition, to reproach other countries over human rights violations."
I think the great cost is desensitizing us to death and to using violence as an instrument for civilized society.
Which nations are the great users of capital punishment? Well, in the year 2000—and the assumption is that China, where we don't have statistics, but that they had been the principal user of capital punishment. The second nation is Saudi Arabia. The third nation is the United States. The fourth nation is Iran. Since 1975, 35 retarded people have been executed; people whose IQ is below 70. Of the nations that have executed people for crimes committed below the age of 18 since 1990, they are these nations: Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the nation that has executed more than any others, the United States.
At Great Cost
It costs much more—I'm not suggesting that economics ought to dictate our decision on this, but as Beth Wilkinson [prosecutor in the Oklahoma City bombing trials for the terrorist attack of April 14, 1995] knows better than the rest of us, the Timothy McVeigh defense cost $13.8 million. For 10 percent of that amount, we could have held him in prison for the rest of his life. And you make heroes out of people. Shortly after the execution—and I remember being in Central Illinois and all of a sudden seeing someone with a T-shirt with Timothy McVeigh's picture on the T-shirt. Maybe that would have happened if he had been sentenced to life in prison. I don't know; I doubt it.
One study for the state of Illinois and the commission that Governor [George] Ryan appointed to look at capital punishment—I'm co-chairing that commission—we will get more up-to-date and perhaps more accurate information, but that it has cost the state of Illinois, over the last two-and-a half decades, $800 million more for executing people than for putting people in prison for life. But I think the great cost is desensitizing us to death and to using violence as an instrument for civilized society.
I think it's bad for the courts. The Constitution doesn't require, as [Supreme Court] Justice [Antonin] Scalia knows, doesn't require members of the Supreme Court to be lawyers. In fact, Justice Hugo Black suggests we ought to have one or two non-lawyers on the United States Supreme Court.... Justice Felix Frankfuter said this: "I am strongly against capital punishment for reasons that are not related to concern for the murderer or the risk of convicting the innocent. When life is at hazard in a trial, it sensationalizes the whole thing almost unwittingly. The effect on juries, the bar, the public, the judiciary, I regard as very bad."
Who gets capital punishment? Well, with rare exceptions, it's the poor who get capital punishment. If you have enough money, you don't get capital punishment. And Timothy McVeigh's situation is the rare exception where he certainly had adequate counsel, but that is a rarity. It is also discriminatory. If the victim is white, in the state of Florida you're 4.8 times more likely to get capital punishment; in Illinois, 4 times more likely; Oklahoma, 4.3 times more likely; Mississippi, 5.5 times more likely, and many other examples. In Kentucky, more than 1,000 African-Americans have been killed since 1975. All 39 death row inmates there, and those who have been executed, are there for killing a white person.
The whole question is, then, is it a deterrent? I asked a class a couple of years ago how many in the class favored capital punishment. An overwhelming percentage raised their hands. I asked them, how many think it is a deterrent? Not a single hand was raised. It's interesting that in England you had capital punishment, among other things, for pick-pocketing. They had public executions. And what was happening during these public executions? People were going around pick-pocketing in that audience.
We have to learn the lesson, not just in our country but anywhere—in the Middle East, anywhere, you name the area—violence breeds violence.
Is there anyone here who feels safer in Texas than in Iowa? Of the 12 states that do not have capital punishment, 10 are below the national average in the rate of murder. Of the seven states with the lowest murder rate, five don't have capital punishment. Twenty-seven states with the highest murder rate, all but two have it. Now, I'm not suggesting the way to reduce the murder rate is get rid of capital punishment. I suggest it is simply not a factor. Is there anyone here who feels less safe in North Dakota than in South Dakota? South Dakota has it; North Dakota doesn't have it. Or do you feel less safe in Massachusetts than in Connecticut? To ask the question is to answer it.
Innocent people are being put to death. We had the case in Illinois of Anthony Porter, two days away from execution [in December 1998], and the information came out he was not the person, and then he was freed by the courts. Since 1976, in Illinois, we have executed 12 people, and 13 people who have been on death row have been released because of DNA evidence that they were not guilty. I don't think there's any question that a great many people have been executed who were innocent. And I don't think we should be part of that. It's not necessary to protect our society.
And then, finally, I think we have to learn the lesson, not just in our country but anywhere—in the Middle East, anywhere, you name the area—violence breeds violence. Now, the state has to—from time to time—use force, but that force should not be excessive. And when it is excessive, then I think we do harm to society. The question is, is it wise to have capital punishment? And I think the evidence is overwhelming that it is not wise to have capital punishment.
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