Last time I checked, there was a provision in the U.S. Constitution called the Eighth Amendment that holds that “cruel and unusual punishment” shall not be inflicted upon the citizens of the United States. I think dousing someone with gasoline and lighting him or her on fire, as Mr. Brandon Jordt suggests in his opinion piece (“Death Penalty Not Punishment Enough for Murderers,” Feb. 12, Daily Nexus), would fall under the category of “cruel and unusual punishment.” But maybe, according to Mr. Jordt, I’m just a “fucking pot-smoking hippie” as well.
Well, I have been known to enjoy both “fucking” and “pot-smoking;” I also support the death penalty. If some guy came into my house and killed my wife and kids, I’d probably want to pull the plug on him myself. There are heinous crimes that deserve death, like child-killing, serial killing, mass-murdering and the like. But for every one premeditated instance of heinous violence there are dozens of cases where the lines between innocence and guilt are more ambiguous.
I come from Illinois, a state that has been the center of much public debate because of the actions of former governor George Ryan. Ryan set off a media fervor both inside and outside Illinois when he instituted a moratorium on the death penalty and a subsequent blanket clemency over death row inmates. Ryan is a Republican and a former supporter of the death penalty, so don’t give me that Democrat-commie-hippie bullshit. Illinois is a state where, over the last 10 years, nearly a dozen death penalty cases have been overturned due to new genetic evidence exonerating innocent death row prisoners.
When you take a look at those who have been set free after spending a good 10-20 years in prison, you notice a disturbing trend. Nearly all of them were men of color and nearly all of them were poor, so poor that they couldn’t afford proper legal representation. It was only after intervention from concerned citizen groups that these men were set free, and even after all of this they still sacrificed decades of their lives for an unjust system.
If Mr. Jordt had his way, these men would have fried without appeal. The possibility of innocence be damned so long as we send some cruel murderer on the road to perdition. Here’s an idea – how’s about we get rid of the needle? It’s far too good for these murderers. We should go back to the good old days, when it was done by some burly guy with a black face mask wielding an axe, and prove that some customs just shouldn’t evolve beyond the dark ages.
Sarcasm aside, I wonder whether Mr. Jordt has ever been in San Quentin. If I didn’t know any better, by his description the place could be a country club spa. Hell, three square meals a day plus healthcare, I have a hard enough time getting those on my own by being a good, hard-working capitalist. Never mind that a prisoner is constantly surrounded by gangsters, rapists, murderers and racists who have a chip on their shoulders. Never mind also that those prisoners spend most of their lives in a cage the size of a dorm room with a roommate who is a convicted felon. Sounds like paradise to me. In all seriousness though, I’d personally rather take the death penalty than have to spend the rest of my life behind bars.
Like I said before, I support the death penalty, or at least the idea of the death penalty. People who commit horrible crimes should be punished to the fullest extent. But the current state of our justice system consists of an orgy of bloodthirsty prosecutors who care more about their political capital than the tenants of capital punishment. In some parts of the country, court-appointed defense attorneys are paid about 20 dollars an hour and have to take on hundreds of cases to maintain a middle-class living. How can we not be skeptical of a system with such inequalities, especially when the price these prisoners pay can’t be refunded?
Neil Visalvanich is a junior history and political science major.