While all other Western nations have abolished the “outdated, immoral and illegal” practice of Capital Punishment, the U.S continues executing people, said Mike Farrell, former MASH TV star and President of Death Penalty Focus, in Davis recently.
“If killing is wrong, then it is at least as wrong for the state to kill in cold blood,” he said. “It’s a cold, dehumanizing ritual that teaches us that taking life is permissible.”
The U.S. Supreme Court allowed states with newly drafted laws to resume executions in 1976. Thirty-eight states now have death penalties. A total of 877 people have been executed since 1977, when executions resumed.
The nation's largest death row is in California, with 625 condemned inmates. The state has executed 10 people since 1976.
One of the clearest arguments against the death penalty is that many innocent people die in the “death system,” as Farrell describes it. At least six men in California have been sentenced to death that were either acquitted on the charge of murder or had their murder convictions overturned. These include Oscar Lee Morris in 2000, Lee Perry Farmer in 1999, Troy Lee Jones in 1996, Patrick “Hootie” Croy in 1990, and Jerry Bigelow in1988.
Since DNA testing was perfected, there has been a virtual avalanche of exonerations from DNA. In recent years, 117 people have been freed from death row because of advances in DNA testing, according to Farrell.
Racism severely taints the death penalty process. Of those on death row, half are African-American and one-fifth are Latino, with 81 percent of the death row inmates being people of color.
The death penalty is also discriminatory in that only the poor are executed; the rich are able to avoid death row because they have the money for the best lawyers. “It’s not the people who are most guilty, but those have had the worst lawyers that are executed,” said Farrell.
Not only is the death penalty illegal, immoral and discriminatory, but also it takes 2 to 3 times as much public money to maintain people on death row and to execute them as it does to pay for the alternative that Farrell advocates, life without parole. The Sacramento Bee has calculated that California would save $90 million per year by abolishing the death penalty.
One argument given for the death penalty is that the victims “deserve closure.” However, Farrell argues that the death penalty only inflicts the suffering on another family, while never providing closure to the murder victim’s family.
“The death sentence is merely a way to get revenge,” Farrell added, quoting Nelson Mandella, who said that a nation “should not be judged by how it treats its highest, but by how it treats its lowest members of society.”
The U.S. joins Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and other repressive countries in allowing the practice of executing children and the mentally retarded.
Farrell had harsh words for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who refused to heed the pleas of Farrell and other human rights activists to grant clemency to Donald Beardslee, executed at San Quentin in January. “His refusal to grant clemency spells out very clearly his point of view on the death penalty,” he said.
Farrell is urging the California Assembly and Senate to pass legislation this year placing a moratorium on executions. Meanwhile, he is working nationwide to replace the death penalty with a maximum sentence of life without chance of parole.
“Imagine a country that praised the value of every human being and no longer executed people,” said Farrell. “It is a lie that some human beings are inconsequential.” For more information, contact: www.deathpenalty.org.
Daniel Bacher is an outdoor writer/alternative journalist/satirical songwriter from Sacramento California. He is also a long-time peace, social justice and environmental activist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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