AP English Language and Composition, Period 6
6 June 2012
The most important intangible to Americans is arguably our liberty. The year 1776 marked the first, but not nearly the last time that Americans would fight a war for freedom, and it was during this tumultuous time, at the end of the eighteenth century, that America won its freedom from their tyrannical oppressors, and over the course of the next two-hundred and thirty-six years America would continue to fight wars to defend the ideals of democracy not only on her shores but in such far away places as Germany, Russia, Vietnam, and Korea. Throughout all of these conflicts a debate has been raging back and forth on whether the death penalty is allowable by the high moral standards the American people claim to uphold as the epitome of a civilized and democratic nation. Capital punishment is the legal execution of citizens by the government and for years, particularly the past fifty or so, opponents have argued that punishment by death has no legal, moral, or ethical grounds, and it is a proven fact that those executed are “nearly always poor and disproportionately black” (Andre, and Velasquez). Also, nearly every country in Europe has banned capital punishment as well as our neighbors directly to the north and south. So why then is the death penalty still widely implemented throughout the United States? Does the death penalty not violate the democratic ideals that we strive to uphold?
Furman v. Georgia (1972) stopped the use of the death penalty when the Supreme Court found that it was infrequently being applied in arbitrary and unpredictable ways, a huge victory for the abolitionist movement. However this decision allowed that if states revised their death penalty statues in order to limit irregularities then the death penalty could once again be legal in the United States. In 1976 executions were permitted to resume following the verdict reached in the cases collectively known as the Gregg decision. Since its reinstatement in 1976 “1,295 convicted murderers have been executed in the United States” (U.S. Executions Since 1879). Of those executed DNA testing along with a combination of fresh evidence has revealed that at least ten people, but probably many more, were in all likelihood innocent of the charges against them, and were wrongfully executed, and another one-hundred and forty people were released from death row after new evidence revealed that they were in fact innocent. It is then a reasonable assertion to make that throughout the United States history of the death penalty the government has undoubtedly executed people innocent of the crimes they supposedly committed. How can American citizens stand by and allow this to happen some might ask. Well, recent data gathered by “a 2011 Gallup Poll, which annually tracks America’s abstract support for the death penalty, recorded the lowest level of support, and the highest level of opposition, in almost 40 years” (CNS Staff) and there has been an overall trend shying away from the death penalty. In 2000 there were thirty-eight states in which the death penalty was legal punishment. That number has since declined to thirty-four states and serves to illustrate Americans growing discomfort with capital punishment. The death penalty today is not so unlike the one that the Supreme Court struck down in 1976. Today’s arbitrary system has no logical reasons to explain the small number of death penalty convictions and executions out of so many eligible cases. In 1976 when the death penalty was reinstated the new system was designed to be fairer and more sensible than it had been in the past. However we can see today that this has not been the case and a multitude of arbitrary factors still decide who is sentenced to die and who to live.
Cameron Todd Willingham was accused of setting a fire that killed his three young daughters and in 2004 he was executed despite surfacing evidence...