Riding the Lightning

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With the emergence of Rick Perry in the race for the Republican presidential nomination and the fast approaching day of execution for Troy Davis, the debate revolving around the death penalty has begun to heat up yet again. The practice of capital punishment has been used by virtually every society since the dawn of civilization and continues on in modern times, but why is this ancient act of social revenge still present in some of our so-called “civil” societies?

In 2010 there were just five developed countries  that have retained the death penalty: Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the United States. The number of executions in Singapore is unknown pending the release of government data, but the total executions in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea amount to just six. On the other hand, the total executions in the United States in 2010 were forty-six; it appears the United States is still in love with Capital Punishment.

Although the numbers have dropped 15% since 1994, the number of Americans sill supporting the death penalty is around 65%, while just 31% oppose it. I’m sure conservative and religious influence make up a large portion of the percentage that support it (even though I’m sure Jesus  wasn’t  too fond of executions himself), but with numbers that high there is obviously other factors at work here. Republican support of capital punishment is 81% to 16% against, in comparison Democrat support is around 50/50 leaving a large number of center and left leaning people in support of the ultimate punishment.

Rick Perry, The Capital Punishment King

I can’t say with certainty that public support among civil citizens is due to their overwhelming belief in revenge, religion or propaganda that convinces people that capital punishment is good for a society or if it’s just plain part of their culture. Perhaps it is all of the above.

According to Amnesty International, at least 23 countries were known to have had executions carried out in 2010 and while most of these countries have a single method of carrying out its executions, the United States has five depending on the state: electric chair, gas chamber, hanging, lethal injection and firing squad. I suppose they’re still trying to figure out the most humane way to take a life.

Nevertheless, the debate around Capital punishment has been pushed into the forefront recently thanks in large part to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s exploits. The governor has watched over the execution of 234 people during his tenure, including at least one man who was in all likelihood innocent (but Perry swept that under the rug). Perry of course is proud of his record breaking tally and was vindicated by the public at his first Republican Presidential Nomination debate when the death of 234 people received the biggest round of applause of the night.

There was also the recent case of Duane Buck who was slated for execution in Texas last week based on racist testimony. Governor Perry was approached by Buck’s attorneys and encouraged to use his power to put a 30-day reprieve on the execution to give time for all parties to look at his case, but Perry did nothing. Luckily the Supreme Court stayed his execution on the grounds that the jury at his sentencing hearing was told he was a danger to the public because he is black.

Troy Davis

In a capital punishment case unrelated to Rick Perry, there is the imminent execution of Troy Davis that is to take place on the 21st of September. Last Friday there were approximately 300 protests staged around the world in support of Davis who was convicted of killing a Georgia police officer back in 1989 despite most witnesses from the trial having recanted or contradicted their testimony. There are also sworn affidavits by many of these witnesses  that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Davis. On top of all this, no DNA evidence or fingerprints tie Davis to the crime and no murder weapon was ever found. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles convenes today to consider the case.

When you factor in the chance of a suspect being the subject of racism by witnesses, police, psychology experts, judges and politicians, not to mention other acts of police corruption, bribery, etc., it’s hard to imagine a society that would still sentence a man to death.

Forget the fact that putting a man down like a dog is morally wrong regardless of his crime. Forget the fact that executions cost far more than keeping a man in prison for life and forget the fact that 56 death row inmates in the United States have been completely exonerated since the year 2000 and set free.

Gandhi  once said “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind,” when will the majority of Americans stop walking into walls?

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