How can we teach people that murder is wrong by murdering people?

Tremaine Harvey, Staff Writer

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California will be voting to either keep or repeal its death penalty during the November general election. The obvious question that tends to arise is, is the death penalty a justifiable punishment for murder? And the simple answer is, yes, it is a justifiable punishment. The Greeks called it lex talionis but most people today understand it as, “an eye for an eye.” Perhaps the considerations should lie elsewhere though.

A study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that out of 7,482 cases where the death penalty was issued, from 1973 to 2004, 1.6 percent of prisoners were exonerated. That may seem like an insignificant figure, however, it represents 117 innocent people who would have been executed by their state. If that is not chilling enough, the four authors concluded that if inmates remained on death row indefinitely, that number would reach up to 4.1 percent. That is equivalent to nearly 300 inmates!

Some may argue that, like emergency vehicles racing down city streets, the public makes a cost benefits analysis. Sometimes emergencies vehicles hurt and kill people in a haste to a scene. However, as a society we agree that the benefits of emergency services outweigh their inadvertent costs. By that logic we must question our policy to continue using the death penalty even though innocent people may be murdered, and decide at what level should we consider the scale tipped. Especially when there is a viable option such as life imprisonment.

Science has yet to demonstrate that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder and according to the Death Penalty Information Center, the states that do not have capital punishment enjoy a lower homicide rate. Which brings us to the most important question, how can we teach people that murder is wrong by carrying out state sanctioned executions?

We simply cannot teach humans far and wide that murder is vile, egregious and immoral by murdering people. It is more effective to take a stand against murder and broadcast to citizens and the world at large that murder is such a horrifying act that the state will not sanction it under –any – circumstance. Some philosophers such as Jeffrey H. Reiman argue that this could go a long way in further taming the human race.

If someone rapes and kills a family member, the idea of justice may be stabbing them five hundred times. Surprisingly, an action as such may very well be justified. That is why punishments should be left to unaffected rational minds. When Californians vote on Prop 62 they should decide whether they want to lead by action and stand against murder and injustice, or continue to be driven by ideas of retribution and deterrence.

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