by Judith Evans
“Let’s do it.”
Those were the last words spoken by Gary Gilmore, moments before his execution by a Utah firing squad on January 17, 1977. It was the first execution in the United States after the US Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in 1976. In 1972, the Court had ruled in Furman v. Georgia that Georgia’s death penalty was unconstitutional because it was arbitrarily applied and violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” Forty death penalty statutes were voided across the country, and 629 inmates were removed from death row.
In the following years, states revamped their death penalty statutes to include strict sentencing guidelines. The changes resulted in the Supreme Court reinstating the death penalty in its 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision. Since 1976, 1540 executions have taken place in the United States. Capital punishment, however, continues to be inhumane, unjust, and ineffective.
Death Penalty Injustices Continue
Rewritten capital punishment statutes have not erased the unjust and dehumanizing effects of capital punishment. On paper, sentencing guidelines claim to prevent arbitrary application of the death penalty. Statistics, however, show continuing arbitrariness and racism in applying the death penalty. For example:
In Washington state, a black defendant is three times more likely to receive the death penalty than a white defendant for a similar crime.
In Louisiana, the death penalty is 97 percent more likely when the victim is white than when the victim is black.
Patterns of discrimination based on the race of the victim or the defendant are found in 93 percent of state reviews.
The horrifying possibility of executing an innocent person is another pressing reason to abolish the death penalty. Since 1973, more than 185 inmates have been removed from death row due to evidence of innocence. Every year since 1973, an average of 3.94 death row inmates have their convictions overturned.
Capital Punishment is Not a Deterrent
Finally, the numbers prove that capital punishment simply does not deter murder:
States that have the death penalty have a higher average murder rate (4.7 per 100,000) than states without the death penalty (3.8 per 100,000).
The South carries out the most executions and has the highest murder rate of any region in the US.
The Northeast carries out the fewest executions and has the lowest murder rate of any region.
The National Research Council reported in 2012 that studies suggesting that the death penalty deters murders are fundamentally flawed.
Event: Stop Executions!
On January 16-17, Rehumanize International will sponsor and participate in Stop Executions!, a direct action event outside the US Supreme Court and the US Capitol in Washington, DC. The death penalty violates the inherent value of every human being’s life, regardless of guilt. It’s time to abolish capital capital punishment once and for all.