The American Ethical Union expresses its dismay at this week’s news that the federal government will resume executing prisoners on death row. Our organization has been a staunch and consistent opponent of the death penalty for decades.*
Killing people held in state custody is never acceptable, regardless of their crimes, because it violates two fundamental human rights: the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment. Capital punishment is an affront to the ideals of human worth and dignity we exist to uphold.
Our criminal justice system, while protecting society from dangerous individuals, should be humane and focused toward rehabilitation and the restoration of people into the community. Once someone is convicted of a crime and incarcerated, the restriction of their liberty is the maximum punitive element acceptable: the state may take your freedom, but it should never take your life.
Some convicted and condemned to death have later been exonerated as innocent. Certainly, some who are innocent have been killed. The state cannot restore justice after the execution of someone who is innocent, making capital punishment even more of a moral wrong.
The moral imperative to abolish the death penalty is particularly urgent given the fact that in its application it is definitively racist. The death penalty is sought more often against people who kill white victims than African American or Hispanic ones, and people of color are disproportionately sentenced to death. This compounds the inherent depravity of capital punishment, creating a system in which the lives of people of color are literally treated as less important than the lives of white people.
That the USA still applies capital punishment is an embarrassing anomaly: of the 195 nations on the globe, only 55 still execute people, including only a handful of industrialized countries. Every country in Europe has abolished the death penalty, except Belarus, “Europe’s last dictatorship.” The USA is a sad outlier among developed nations in its enthusiasm for state-sponsored killing, and we should all engage in actions to end this cruel, inhumane, and evil practice, including contacting our representatives and the administration to object to this particular action.