December 13, 2010
Civil Rights VS Public Safety
The argument over public safety versus civil rights has been an ongoing process in the United States since the creation of the Constitution. Some argue that in order to have public safety in our society the government tends to violate some of our amendment rights, while others believe it is a mistake to sacrifice public safety for civil rights. Civil rights are rooted in our country and protect the people who live in this country. Many believe the safety of the general population is more important than protecting the rights of citizens. This paper will analyze public safety versus civil rights with focus on the death penalty, gun control, and pursuit driving and hate crimes. The death penalty or capital punishment is the execution of an offender sentenced to death after conviction by a court of law of a criminal offense (Encyclopedia 2008). The death penalty has been an ongoing debate on whether it should be allowed or whether it violates our constitutional right. While most developed Western nations have stopped executing the United States continues to execute offenders (Zimring 2004). From 1977 through 2008 1,136 people have been executed, which consisted of people who committed murder (Procon 2010). Those who are in favor of the death penalty believe it is an important tool to help deter crime and it cost less than life imprisonment (Procon 2010). They believe retribution helps console the grieving family and it also ensures that the offender will never be able to commit another heinous crime (Procon 2010). According to Grant (2004) some people believe that some offenders should face the death penalty because of vengeance and retribution for violent crimes. During the time when Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City Bomber) was executed about 80% of viewers said he deserved to die. (Grant 2004). I remember after 911 a lot of people wanted to execute the people responsible for all of the deaths that were caused as a result of 911. According to a study that was done by Hashem Dezhbakhsh and Joanna Shepherd (2003), they found a strong link between executions and reduced murder incidents. They also found that for each execution on average there were 18 fewer murders (Dezhbakhsh 2003). In the civilizations of the Ancient Near East capital punishment was a way of life and the bible clearly supports this: “And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die; so shalt you put away the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear, and fear” (Deut. 21:21) (Capital 2002). For the people who are against the death penalty believed it is unethical to kill a criminal for any reason because that person is a human being. According to some scholars and philosophers a human being regardless if he is a criminal or not, was created by God and it not appropriate to award a person the death penalty (Grant 2004). Some argue that the death penalty violate the VIII Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment. According to Grant (2004), death is not only unusually severe punishment but it does not serve penal purpose better that less severe punishment. During the Global Summit of Nobel Peace in 2003 many of the winners stated that they believed the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment that should be abolished (Grant 2004) Another argument that has to do with public safety and civil rights is the right to buy and own a gun. The Second Amendment protects the right of people to keep and bear arms. In 2008 and 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to buy and own a gun that has no ties to the military. The individual’s right to bear arm is a symbol of individual freedom. Opponents in favor of the right to bear arm believe that a person has a right to use a gun in self defense and argue that any attempt to control their use is unconstitutional (Woods 2005). Opponents who do not favor the right for an individual to buy and own a gun argues that the 2nd Amendment only applies to the collective right of the militia to bear arms (Woods 2005). They argue that the language of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is only meant to be use by the militia. The 2nd Amendment states, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed” (Woods 2005). They believe that the right to bear arms is only meant for the sole purpose of a well regulates militia for the safety of a free state. Some argue that our government is sacrificing the public safety by allowing individuals the right to own a gun without being connected to a militia. Opponents who support gun control argue that by having gun control laws they curb access by criminal, juvenile and other high risk individuals (Woods 2005). Pursuit driving is another public safety issue that deals with law enforcement officers engaging in high speed chase in order to catch a suspected criminal. The problem with pursuit driving is that it put innocent people, police officers, and criminals lives in danger. The numbers have shown over the years that pursuits continue to increase and the number of pursuit related injuries and deaths have increased also (Samaha 2005). Some Law enforcement officers are faced with fleeing suspects all the time and they must decided if the apprehension of the suspect worth the risk of endangering the public (Samaha 2005). In 1998 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 314 people were killed in police pursuits (Samaha 2005). Some people argue that the lack of a mandatory reporting system interferes with NHTSA attempt to track pursuit fatalities and these results in the collection of only half of the actual data (Samaha 2005). According to police pursuit records, the majority of pursuits involve a stop for a traffic violation, at least one person die every day as a result of the chase, and 1 percent of police officers who died in the line of duty los their life as a result of a car pursuit (Samaha 2005). Part of the problem with police pursuit is that most officers lack the proper training to properly maneuver their vehicle while chasing their suspect. Most officers were trained on how to pursuit but not when to pursuit. Opponents who are in favor of police pursuits believe that if law enforcement agencies get rid of police pursuit that this will allow people who get pulled over for a traffic violation to flee because they know the officers cannot chase them (Samaha 2005). If I allow myself to think like a criminal I would not hesitate to flee from the law especially if I had a warrant out for my arrest. A no chase policy would keep the public safe from car accidents caused by police chase but at the same time it would keep more criminals on the street because they would flee every chance they get. Another argument is that many traffic stops result in arrests of violent criminals along with drug offenders (Samaha 205). A couple of weeks ago in Dallas TX there was a guy who was pulled over for speeding and when they ran his information they found out that he was wanted in a string of bank robberies. Although this guy did not flee, if he would have he may have gotten away because Dallas Police Department have a no chase policy, unless approved by a supervisor (only two officers are approved) and the suspect must be wanted for a violent crime. Hate crimes have been around since the beginning of time and occur when a person targets a victim because of that person racial group, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, nationality, class, ethnicity and disability (Gerstenfeld 2010). Hate crimes happens any and every where, in small and large cities, and every state. As long as hate crimes have been happening the actual name “hate crime” is new and so is the idea of special treatment of these offenses (Gerstenfeld 2010). The first hate crime law was not passed until 1980 and 3 decades later only 44 states, District of Columbia and the federal government have some form of hate crime legislation (Gerstenfeld 2010). In this day and time I find it hard to believe that not all 50 states have some type of hate crime law. Some people do not believe there should be special laws for hate crimes because they say all violent crimes are hateful regardless of race and sexual orientation. Those in favor of hate crime laws argue that there are hate crime laws because; the person who commits a hate crime deserve an increased punishment because these type of crimes are worse than ordinary; hate crime laws will deter the act; and that the laws will show that this type of crime is not allowed (Gerstenfeld 2010). In the US the most frequently reported hate crime is racism against blacks with 3,000 of the 8,000 hate crime reported to the FBI against black people (FBI 2009). In 1990 the Hate Crime Statistics Act was created which requires the Attorney General to collect data on crimes committed because of a person’s race, religion, disability ethnicity and sexual orientation (Gerstenfeld, 2010). According to the Uniform Crime Report (2010) since 1991 there have been over 113,000 hate crimes with 55% being racially motivated, 17% because of religion, 14% because of sexual orientation 14% because of ethnicity and 1% based on disability. Although there are laws that deal with hate crime there should be more laws and all 50 states should be required to have hate crime laws. Trying to choose which is more important public safety or civil rights is really a waste of time because both are important and both have a time when one may appear more important than the other one. For example because of 911 some people believe their civil rights have been violated for the safety of the public because of the government’s actions when they passed the Patriot Act of 2001. I believe depending on what is happening in our society at the time that public safety and civil rights will always be sacrificed one for the other.
Dezhbakkhsh, H., & Sheperd, J. M. (2003). The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment:
Evidence from a "Judicial Experiment.
Encyclopedia Britannica (2008) "Capital Punishment,"
FBI (2010) Uniform Crime Reports – Hate Crime Statistics.
Gerstenfeld, P. B. (2010). Hate Crimes: Causes, Controls, and Controversies (2nd ed.). : Sage.
Grant, R. (2004, Jan/Feb). Capital punishment and violence. Humanist, 64(1), 25-29.
Procon.org. (2010) Death Penalty ProCon.org. DeathPenalty.ProCon.org.
Retrieved from http://deathpenalty.procon.org/
Samaha, J. (2005). Criminal Justice (7th ed.). : Cengage Learning. Woods, G. (2005). Right to bear arms; American rights. : Infobase Publishing. Zimring, F. E. (2004). The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment. : Oxford University