24 January 2011

Why Illinois governor should sign death penalty abolition bill

On January 11, the Illinois state legislature passed a bill abolishing the death penalty in that state. The bill was then sent to Governor Pat Quinn's desk. Whether or not he will sign it into law, however, is still uncertain.

According to the Chicago Tribune, "Quinn said he supports 'capital punishment when applied carefully and fairly,' but also backs the 10-year-old moratorium on executions." (Former Governor George Ryan had declared a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000.)

There are numerous reasons why Governor Quinn should sign the death penalty abolition bill.

The first reason arises from Quinn's own words, as quoted above: that he supports execution "when applied carefully and fairly." Human nature being what it is, there is no way to guarantee that the death penalty is applied carefully and fairly. In fact, there is too much proof that the opposite is the case.

Studies in several states have shown that the death penalty is applied in a discriminatory, arbitrary, and uneven manner, and is used disproportionately against racial minorities and the poor. For example, a 1998 study of death sentences in Philadelphia found that African-American defendants were almost four times more likely to receive the death penalty than were people of other ethnic origins who committed similar crimes. Where is the justice here?

In addition to its biased application, the death penalty is demonstrably not a deterrent. According to Amnesty International, "FBI data shows that all 14 states without capital punishment in 2008 had homicide rates at or below the national rate."

Also, execution is irreversible, which is a huge problem, given so many cases of death row inmates who have been exonerated after conviction, based on DNA or other evidence. How many other innocent persons were not lucky enough to be proven innocent prior to their executions? We know of at least a few.

On a more philosophical note, Amnesty International describes the death penalty as "the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights."

For those of you who follow the Christian faith, consider the commandment that "Thou shalt not kill." That commandment bears no caveat indicating that it's acceptable to kill a killer.

Clearly, the death penalty does not represent justice. It represents revenge -- sometimes misdirected revenge.

Shouldn't we as a society be above that sort of thing?

Shouldn't the State of Illinois be above it?

I hope Governor Quinn will ultimately agree.

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