Texans love the fact that they’re from Texas. Walk down the streets of any small town in Texas, stop someone and ask them why the love the great state, and they could come up with any number of reasons. As a Texan since conception, I could rattle off a list a mile long. But unlike many other Texans, I’m willing to admit there are a few things wrong with my favorite state – a huge one being the death penalty. Not only is capital punishment legal, but Texas has carried out more than one third of the executions in the United States since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.(1) Harris County alone has executed 127 people; Oklahoma, the state with the second most executions, has 112.(2)
The next scheduled execution in Texas is of Taichin Preyor. On February 26, 2004 in San Antonio, Preyor stabbed and killed 20-year-old Jami Tackett during a burglary attempt.(3) In the 2005 trial, Preyor was sentenced to death. After a series of appeals, Preyor’s execution date was set for July 2016, but the date was withdrawn. He is now scheduled to be executed on July 27, 2017.(4)
By Texas law, to sentence Preyor with capital punishment, the jury had to find “beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a probability that Preyor would commit criminal acts of violence that constituted a continuing threat to society.”(5) The fact that the requirement – after committing a capital offense – to be eligible for the death penalty is a continuing risk to society is illogical. In a developed country, it is possible to keep people from being continual “threats to society” without killing them. Several other states have successfully ceased using the death penalty without increased threats. I’m sure Texas can do the same.
In Texas and beyond, the people who receive capital punishment are often victims of classism and racism. People of a lower economic class accused of capital offences often cannot pay for a lawyer and are thus appointed a public defender. Public defenders can be covering multiple cases simultaneously and are often not given much time at all to get to know their client and the situation before representing them. Because of this, public defenders can have a harder time with each case than an expensive private attorney who has only one case to focus on. Taichin Preyor had a public defender throughout the trial and part of the appeals process, after which his family hired a lawyer for the remainder of the appeals process.(6) In Texas, eighty percent of people who have received the death penalty over the last five years have been people of color. And “[w]hile African-Americans comprise less than 13% of the Texas population, they comprise 43.6% of death row inmates.”(7) This reflects a deadly form of systemic racism within our justice system that is simply unacceptable.
Now, I do not mean to discount the horror of Preyor’s actions or the emotions of the victim’s loved ones. For Tackett and all those who mourn her life, my heart aches. This loss of life was terrible, without question. The tragedy of this incident should not be disregarded.
That being said, capital punishment is not the answer to this crime. A retributive justice system that sees violence and responds with more violence is not acceptable. Every human being, no matter who they are or what they have done, has an intrinsic human dignity from the moment of conception that cannot be taken away. Capital punishment, and other means of ending human life, completely ignore this dignity. The United States claims it was based on the idea that every human being has the unalienable right to life, yet practices like capital punishment contradict that belief.
Capital punishment is a clear violation of human dignity and should not exist in places in which the community can be kept safe by other means – which is most developed countries. Texas residents, join me in sending a message to Governor Greg Abbott, asking him to issue a reprieve. You can also write the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and ask them to recommend clemency for Taichin Preyor. Links are included below.
How to contact Texas Governor Greg Abbott: https://gov.texas.gov/contact
Information on how to contact the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles: http://tcadp.org/get-involved/stop-executions/
Photo credit: http://unsplash.com/@robertaguillen?utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=photographer-credit&utm_content=creditBadge
1. “Facts about the Texas Death Penalty,” Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, last modified July 1, 2017, http://tcadp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/TXDPFactSheetJuly2017-1.pdf.
3. Tai Chin Preyor v. William Stephens, 5th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals, https://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/unpub/12/12-70024.0.wpd.pdf
4. “Convicted Killer in San Antonio Burglary Gets Execution Date,” U.S. News, March 20, 2017, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/texas/articles/2017-03-20/convicted-killer-in-san-antonio-burglary-gets-execution-date.
5. Tai Chin Preyor v. William Stephens
6. Tai Chin Preyor v. William Stephens
7. “Texas Death Penalty Facts,” Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, accessed July 25, 2017, http://tcadp.org/get-informed/texas-death-penalty-facts/.