By Ron Steiner
Antonyms for “peace” could be any of the following: War, disagreement, hate, discord, agitation, disharmony, distress, frustration, upset, worry, disturbance.
We can add the “death penalty” as an antonym to “peace.”
The American death penalty is the tip of the sword that is emblematic of the violent nature that continues to exist in much of our land.
The United States has a history of violence from its very beginnings. The decimation of the native peoples and a land that was built to a great degree with the labor of slaves are all parts of our national heritage that are shameful and should be left in the past. As a country, as a citizen of the modern world, we should have matured enough that our moral fiber strains toward peace, not war, hate, or retribution. The continued use of the death penalty violates efforts toward peace, by hanging onto the acceptance of violent vengeance as a part of our identification as a nation.
National polls still shows a majority of those polled favor a death penalty—the bad news. The good news is that majority has been declining steadily for the past two decades. In 2015 there were fewer executions (28) than in the past 25 years, carried out by only six states. Also, there were fewer death sentences (49) handed down, a drop of 84.4 percent since the 315 executions in 1996.
Retribution, a Step Away from Peace
While the use of the death penalty and executions falls, it also narrows in its use to the southern states, those same “Bible Belt” states that supported slavery, that resisted civil rights, and many people continue to cling to the retributive citations from the Bible to justify this act of violence perpetrated by the government. Retribution is a step away from peace. Retribution only adds to the level of violence. There are alternatives to execution in terms of imprisonment to keep the public safe.
While only six southern states carried out executions in 2015, 31 states still have it on the books as the law. The death penalty is a hollow icon for being “tough on crime.” The alternative is being “smart on crime,” working to deter crime. Being “smart on crime” is using taxpayers’ resources to rehabilitate the addicted, provide services to the mentally disabled, intervene into abusive households, enhance early childhood education and provide greater support for community policing. The death penalty is a failed public policy. The nation-wide repeal of the death penalty would be a step toward peace.
The “evolving standard of decency” is the judicial theory that led the United States Supreme Court, in 2002, to declare execution of those with “mental retardation” as unconstitutional. Then in 2005 the Court declared unconstitutional the execution of juveniles. It is time for the application of the “evolving standard of decency” to apply to all government executions and allow us to take a giant step toward peace in our land.Φ
Ron Steiner is a Board of Directors member of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.