By Pooja KumbharColumnist
There is no more egregious an abuse of government power than executing an innocent man, yet that fate nearly befell Michael Keenan before the Supreme Court intervened on his behalf a few months ago. Keenan was recently released from Ohio’s death row after serving 23 years in prison, as the nation’s 141st death penalty exoneration. It was recently found that the prosecution had hidden evidence of Keenan’s innocence.
The United States is the only country in the Western industrialized world to still use the death penalty for punishment in a legal process. It is unfathomable for such a forward country, which takes its pride in human rights, justice and equality, to have a law so degrading and primal in practice. The death penalty lowers us all. It is surrender to the worst that is in us-- the lust for power. We use power granted by governments to make the act of killing “right” by execution, although there is never a “right” reason to kill.
The act of killing is the same whether done by a thug or by an official. It is hypocritical to say that those enforcing the law can exercise killing practices, while those under the law cannot. Killing through the use of power will never elevate a society, never bring back a life, and never inspire anything but hate.
The death penalty deprives people of a significant opportunity to prove they are not guilty and creates a risk of executing innocent people, and thereby violates the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process of law. In Keenan’s first trial, prosecutors withheld police statements that would have proven his innoence out of court. The urge to send a scapegoat to death row often proves to be stronger than the pursuit of truthful facts.
“I am opposed to the death penalty,” said political professor at Hofstra, Dr. Paul van Wie. Van Wie has served as Franklin Square’s historian since 1975 and as Town of Hempstead Landmarks Commissioner since 1988.
“I don’t think any government has the right to take the life of anyone,” said van Wie. “That being said, I do believe governments have the right to impose punishments: life imprisonment, for example.”
The death penalty is an unusually severe punishment due to its finality and the emotional pain on the prisoners and their families.
More importantly, it is no more effective than a less severe punishment. Treating humans as objects to be discarded is a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
A once fervent supporter of the death penalty, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law on April 25 a bill that replaces the death penalty with life without parole.
“I spent years as a prosecutor and pursued dangerous felons in court, including murderers,” said Malloy. “In the trenches of a criminal courtroom, I learned firsthand that our system of justice is very imperfect. While it’s a good system designed with the highest ideals of our democratic society in mind, like most of human experience, it is subject to the fallibility of those who participate in it.”
Malloy is not the only political figure with this opinion.
“We cannot confront darkness with darkness and expect light,” said Senator Gayle Slossberg.
Connecticut is the fifth state in five years, and the 17th overall, to do away with capital punishment.
Banning the death penalty also made its way to California’s ballots this election. Although the bill was rejected, the very introduction of the idea into California’s ballot is a sign of national movement, one state at a time. The United States cannot continue executing prisoners if it wishes to progress further with humanitarian rights, especially while acting as global arbiter for human rights violations.