– A little over a week ago, Bruce Rauner used his amendatory veto powers on a gun control bill(focused on lengthening waiting periods for rifles and shotguns) to add not only further restrictions on gun access but also to add in a Capital punishment provision for mass killers and those who gun down police officers. The legislature can use a 3/5ths majority to amend the bill to its original version or just try to throw it out all together. I should preface this by stating that I am very firmly against the death penalty and that is the framework through which I will argue against this bill. There are many reasons to be against the death penalty. One is that I and many others believe the intrinsic value of life is sacred, not on a religious level, but because it is the only one we get. I find the idea of our government- supposedly the representative of the most liberal freedom loving country in the world- snuffing that out to not just be deeply disturbing on a personal ethical level but also completely contrary to what America professes to be and what it should try to be. Our government already kills an absurd amount of people even without the death penalty, sanctioning even more death will just add to its increasing moral decay. Another big reason is that the government condemns innocent people all the time. There’s likely a very sizable amount of prisoners right now on death row in death penalty states like California that are innocent but are going to die anyway. Check out the story of Kevin Cooper in the New York Times from Nicholas Kristof with help from Jessia Ma and Stuart A. Thompson. Despite a large amount of evidence to the contrary, multiple judges and current/former law enforcement denouncements, and the completely haphazard handling of the case by the San Bernardino police department, Cooper is still on death row and likely to die. Kristof notes that statistics from the death penalty information center indicate that at least 162 people originally sentenced to death have been exonerated since 1973. And according to a peer reviewed study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, around 4.1% of people condemned to death in the United States are innocent. Kristoff calculates that that would mean around 30 people currently on death row in California are innocent but still likely to die anyway. That number should send shivers down anyone’s spine. If one innocent person is killed by the government, let alone 30, then how the hell can we take this justice system seriously? Who are really the criminals here? Oh and let us not forget how the Chicago Police accountability task force described Chicago’s policing over the last decade or so: Woefully inadequate, persistent problem, Justified lack of trust. Racism and classism pervades the whole history of Chicago policing. So we’re really going to just implicitly trust that the Chicago police and the rest of the Illinois government will carry out this policy responsibly? Screw that.
One of the most frustrating things about the bill to me is that it actually has some admirable measures that Rauner added on, like banning bump stocks. But is this then just a method of holding gun control hostage in exchange for a death penalty provision? Do we really have to have one or the other? Thankfully there is protests towards the bill from some state democrats and other notable death penalty critics, written about here by John O’Connor of the AP. The article ends on an important point from journalist Rob Warden: “Rob Warden, who has spent years exposing wrongful convictions as a journalist and academic, told lawmakers that even a “limited” death penalty is ripe for lawmakers’ expansion. When Illinois restored capital punishment in 1977, there were six “aggravating factors,” or legal determinations that, if met, could warrant a death sentence, Warden said. When it was abolished, there were 20.” (O’Connor) Give the Illinois government an inch and they will take a mile. Another thing that needs to be added to this debate is that these killings are ritualized ceremonies. What does that say about our society? What do we want our reaction to crime to be? Violent ceremonial revenge against unarmed prisoners? Because that’s what we’re advocating and teaching kids. Revenge is not a societal good and it is not something that we should continue to pass down to future generations. The focus should be on seeking humane justice. To sum up: Life is sacred and the state should not kill people, we should not influence future generations to continue seeking revenge, too many innocent people have already been condemned to death, and the Illinois government has a history of incompetence and corruption. On top of all that, according to the vast majority of law enforcement officials surveyed by the ACLU, the death penalty does absolutely nothing to deter violent crime. So what are we getting out of this? I understand the pain of the victims family must be excruciating but that does not mean the state has any right to murder people. Would we consider vigilante justice from the victims family right? Of course not, so we shouldn’t consider it right when the state does it either. One more thing I frequently hear from people arguing for the death penalty is the question about what you would want if it was the murderer of someone close to you? I am lucky to say I haven’t suffered through a tragedy such as that, and I can’t predict how I’d react, but I’d like to believe I’d still be vehemently against that persons death and know 100% that it would be wrong.
Opinions are Jake Morask’s and not representative of Laura Law office as a whole.