Friday, 23 February 2007

America should cease death-penalty use

America should cease death-penalty use

Shazia Haq

Issue date: 2/23/07 Section: Opinion

Shannon Schieber

Shannon Schieber was killed in 1998, but retribution is the last thing on her mother's mind.

Instead, Vicki Schieber stood in the freezing rain this week, sympathizing with a crowd of anti-death-penalty supporters in Maryland. She refused to approve the death penalty as the punishment for her daughter's murderer.

"It was against everything I was brought up to believe," she said. "Taking another person's life is wrong. Don't put a question mark where God puts a period."

Schieber's beliefs might soon become law. Maryland this week considered a bill that could make it the first state in the country to ban the death penalty since its 1976 reinstatement in the United States.

This new proposal, however, has raised an issue the country conveniently sweeps under the rug every decade: Why haven't we banned capital punishment yet?

More than 128 countries worldwide, including nearly every industrialized nation, have laws banning the practice. The United States is not one of those countries.

The European Union, whose member states officially prohibit the practice, issued a formal statement of discontent with our practices: "(The EU is) concerned about the increasing number of executions in the United States of America."

The arguments against capital punishment are old, tired and well worn, but it's astounding they have to be raised again.

Capital punishment is the epitome of barbaric torture. The sheer ability of a human being to take another's life, purely for reprisal or punishment, is sickening. How is it possible that the beacon of civilization still enforces a practice utilized during the Middle Ages?

Whether the rationale involves religion, philosophy, ethics or morality, the arguments in favor of the death penalty have steadily lost all credence.

Taking another's life does not deter future crime. Killers are not thinking rationally when killing, and punishment is probably their least concern. It is foolish to think a criminal would back away from slaying another person because they fear lethal injection or the electric chair. It just doesn't work that way. The death penalty is no more a deterrent to future murderers than life in prison.

Nor is prison more expensive than capital punishment. A study by the state of Kansas found the average death penalty case costs the state $1.26 million; non-death penalty cases average $740,000.

Taking another's life does not fulfill the idea of retribution. Emotional impulses should not dictate a crime's punishment, and the insane idea of equal vengeance has otherwise never been the case in the U.S. justice system. When someone commits a less heinous crime, do we equally rape the rapist? Rob the robber? Torture the torturer? We don't, because a barbaric crime is not redeemed by another.

Justice never advances with the loss of human life. And a country's morality should never be based on the whims of a killer, but on a higher plane of integrity and ethics.

Killing another human being won't erase the murder of Shannon Schieber, but will only perpetuate a sick cycle of violence.

Gandhi once said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." What the United States needs now is to regain sight of its faults.


Shazia Haq is a print journalism and international relations junior from Torrance. Her column, "Scene & Heard," runs Fridays.

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