Stop State-Sponsored Executions



Art: Luis Miguel Munilla on flickr, under Creative Commons. Adapted to exclude original text.

In 1990, convict Jesse Joseph Tafero was placed on death row for the murder of two police officers and electrocuted. During the execution, six-inch flames erupted from Tafero’s head when the executioner pulled the switch for the electricity to start flowing. It took three jolts of power to stop his breathing.

Unfortunately, such botched executions are not uncommon. At least 3% of all American executions from 1890 to 2010 went awry. While 3% seems very small, in reality that amounts to 276 out of 9,000 executions that went wrong.

It is time we stop ignoring these violations of human dignity and start advocating for justice, even for those who have been convicted of committing violent crimes. The United States is built upon the Constitution. Yet we are continuously violating the Bill of Rights by using unsound means to execute offenders.

If you were to ask people what their thoughts were on the death penalty, there would be a variety of answers. Many believe that the death penalty is what violent criminals deserve because of the heinous crimes they committed.

Others would claim that the death penalty is unethical and violates the 8th Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which states that no cruel or unusual punishment should be inflicted. Even those who have committed brutal crimes are still human beings, and they should be treated with dignity.

No matter your stance on the death penalty, we can all agree that nobody should be tortured before they die. These convicted criminals may have committed violent crimes, but they are still human. Since so many executions go amiss, we should put an end to the death penalty.

According to the Amnesty International, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty. In 2013, only 22 countries, including the United States, Afghanistan and China, carried out executions. Even more shocking is that the U.S. is the fifth highest ranking country for executions, just behind China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. So far in 2015, there have been 14 executions.

Sadly, not all of the people on death row have even committed crimes; many have been wrongfully convicted.

The Innocence Project, an organization founded in 1992, has used DNA testing to prove the innocence of 20 people who had been sentenced to death. While a handful of innocent death row inmates have been released from prison, others haven’t been so lucky.

In 1994, fourteen-year-old George Stinney Jr., an African-American, had been accused of beating two white girls and was executed by electric chair. In 2009, he was exonerated after Stinney’s sister testified that he had been with her at the time of the beatings. Back then, a jury of 12 white men took only 10 minutes to find him guilty.

Stinney’s wrongful conviction and execution is one of many prime examples of why we should put an end to the death penalty. The criminal justice system is flawed, and the prevalence of wrongful convictions means that innocent people have been put to death.

Even guilty criminals, no matter what is on their record, should not be tortured to death by our criminal justice system.

There are alternative ways that can be effective when dealing with a convicted violent criminal, such as prison and rehabilitation, or even a mental hospital. These interventions are just and constitutional; they give offenders a chance to reenter society as productive citizens who will make sure they don’t go down the same destructive path again.