By Hira Baig
Associate Editor, Volume 23
The vast majority of countries, 140 to be exact, consider the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment. The current constitution of Germany, for example, forbids use of capital punishment. Lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson comments on this policy choice by suggesting there is a connection between Germany’s consciousness of its history and its refusal to use the death penalty. It would be harrowing, after all, for the German government to have a criminal punishment that facilitates the state-sanctioned killing of people after the Holocaust.
America, on the other hand, turns a blind eye to its history. Celebrating civil rights leaders and electing a black president does not rid this country of its past sins—especially if those sins are manifesting today in different form.
The grave inequality between the races was embedded into our Constitution and our laws. While the Constitution created a form of government for “the people,” it was used for over a century to uphold slavery. Once formal slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment, the Constitution was used to justify discriminatory treatment, Jim Crow, and today, it is used to embolden our system of mass incarceration.
The Constitution also upholds use of the death penalty. The killing of mostly black men is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which ought to protect people from cruel and unusual punishment. And in southern states, black defendants are 22 times more likely to get the death penalty if the alleged victim is white.
In my home-state of Texas, juries can still sentence mentally ill offenders to death. Texas has one of the busiest death rows in the country, and recently, a lawmaker filed a bill that might curtail use of this punishment. This bill limits the maximum punishment for mentally ill people to life in prison without parole. Mitigating use of the death penalty ought to be considered a valiant effort. After all, Texas uses the death penalty more than any other state.