March 4, 2013 – Just as I thought reality TV couldn’t get any lower, I learned that China recently aired a two-hour broadcast that showed four foreign death-row prisoners being led to their execution. Their actual death by lethal injection was not shown, but the “execution parade” depicted just about everything else in the two hours leading up to their demise.
The Chinese government has used this public parade policy for years to shame criminals. This latest stunt is surprising because in 2010 the government responded to public protests about this practice, and prohibited police from publicly shaming criminals. It was a definite step in the right direction for humanity, but it appears that ban has been lifted.
The parade of shame is used as a deterrent, showing people exactly what their punishment would be if they commit a crime. The Chinese population is divided on how they feel about the most recent broadcast. About half believe it was macabre voyeurism and others say it was judicial resolve for a heinous crime committed.
The four men executed were Burmese drug traffickers who allegedly murdered a crew of Chinese sailors to steal the drugs on board their ship. Quite heinous, I agree. But in a country that blocks much of what appears on the Internet – supposedly to protect its people – showing the last minutes of life of these four prisoners is inhumane and even crude. No matter how awful their crimes were, they are still human beings.
While I don’t believe anything like this would ever get the OK in the United States – although probably not from the lack of trying – we cannot sit back and feel proud of ourselves for our reserve. The fact that we still execute prisoners in this country, something that most progressive countries have labeled barbaric and outdated and have since abandoned, keeps the United States in the company of third world countries whose other practices we condemn.
In the United States, the rates of executions have slowed dramatically, which indicates hope that it will be overturned once again. Polls show most Americans still favor capital punishment, but the numbers grow less every year. In China, nearly 8,000 prisoners are executed each year, according to Human Rights groups. That’s nearly half of those on death row worldwide, according to statistics from a few years ago.
Other statistics show that those who oppose the death penalty do not believe in softer penalties for criminals convicted of murder in the United States. Rather, many of us believe murderers who receive life in prison should spend the rest of their life in prison. Life should mean life, and not just 20 years as it does in many states.
For those who cry that it costs too much to keep someone in prison for life, the numbers tell a different story. According to figures from 2007, in California, for example, the death penalty system costs taxpayers $114 million per year beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life. In Kansas, the costs of capital cases are 70% more expensive than non-capital cases, including the costs of incarceration. In Indiana, the total costs of the death penalty exceed the complete cost of life in prison by almost 38%. In North Carolina, the death penalty costs $2.16 million per execution more than life in prison. In Florida, it costs $51 million per year above what it would cost to punish all convicts with life. And in Texas, a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, three times the cost of life in prison.
A free and democratic federal or state government should not have the right to kill someone. Killing is wrong, and sentencing those who do to imprisonment is enough. Doesn’t it seems odd that we argue the right to bear arms, yet we let the government decide who shall live or die? The 2nd Amendment sates that “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” This includes protecting ourselves against the very government who has the power to execute us.
Also, it is the 8th Amendment that protects citizens against cruel and unusual punishment. Killing is always cruel and unusual, so why is the practice of the death penalty still in existence? Those who break this law should be punished for their crimes, including government officials who sentence people to death.
In a perfect world we would not have to worry about whether or not we should execute our citizens. We don’t live in a perfect world, but we can make it a little better if we remember that we are all human beings and act accordingly.