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Parlor Talk: The Boston Bomber

Posted by Kyle Baranko on May 20, 2015 at 1:00 PM

Two years ago an explosion rocked downtown Boston and turned the 2012 marathon into violent chaos. This despicable act of terror sparked national outrage and was the worst on the United States since the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty for the crime, which resulted in three killed and over 250 injured. Many argue that his sentence to death, announced last Friday, is justified retribution for the atrocity. And many also offer the typical rebuttals to arguments for capital punishment, citing inhumanity, financial costs, etc. Regardless of your perspective of the Boston Bomber and capital punishment, the trial’s conclusion reenergized the debate surrounding this controversial piece of the constitution.

From a historical context, the death penalty’s legitimacy among states has fluctuated greatly. In 1853, Wisconsin was the first state to abolish capital punishment, soon followed by Iowa in 1872 and Maine in 1876. However, over the next several decades, these states and many others toggled back and forth, abolishing and restoring the death penalty according to oscillating popular opinion. As of today, 18 states outlaw capital punishment, but popular support for the legislation is at a 40 year low. Yet every other nation in the developed world has abolished the death penalty, and even encourages Americans to reconsider their long-held views. Consider the UN Commissioner for Human Rights’ statement: “The increasing use of the death penalty in the United States and in a number of other states is a matter of serious concern and runs counter to the international community's expressed desire for the abolition of the death penalty.” It is imperative that we recognize state rights and uphold the people’s decision to keep this piece of legislation, but is it worth the cost to our international reputation? The rest of the West has a defined position in the debate, and supporting the opposite position could send the wrong message to our allies. Is upholding this possibly outdated facet of states’ rights worth a hit to diplomacy capability?

The arguments for and against capital punishment are both convincing. Because of its controversy, this point of contention has been used in debate on both a classroom and professional level throughout the United States. Those who support the death penalty point to a variety of factors, led by the preferences of the victim’s family; loved ones may be comforted by a surefire form of closure. Punishment of death could also be more of a crime deterrent than a life-sentence. There are many other small, logical arguments: it helps alleviate the overcrowding in prisons, eliminates the chance of committing another crime, etc. But the fact remains: in Western society, and even recently in the United States, capital punishment’s popularity is waning.

There is a reason for this trend. Many arguments supporting the abolition of the death penalty are quite convincing and have won over the minds of many policy makers. Some of these arguments are logical. For example, it costs less to put away a criminal for life than go through the lengthy, expensive, and sometimes traumatic process of a death sentence. The required appeals process clogs up the court system and makes it substantially less efficient. From the criminal’s perspective, the death sentence could be more appealing compared to a long life in solitary confinement; killing the person responsible could be a cop out. There are moral objections as well. Why kill someone when the point of imprisonment is to prevent killing? How do we move away from revenge mentality? And finally, there is the issue of a false conviction. Despite new technology and genetic testing, there is still a small chance that the person being put to death is innocent. Some argue that external factors, such as demographics, race, litigator quality, etc. All these issues have weighed heavily on voters’ minds recently and have impacted poll numbers.

The process of actually putting the criminal to death takes a very long time. Because of probable appeals, Tsarnaev’s case could last years or even decades. This means that the feeling of closure desired by victim’s relatives could be delayed until the process is completely over Many families of the victims said they were satisfied with the ruling, but many others would’ve rather had him put away for life in order to be done with the ordeal. In addition, some worry that he could become a martyr in the eyes of radicals with similar twisted ideologies. Another oddity peculiar to the Boston Bomber case complicates matters: the jury’s background. Members of the jury were selected for the case only if they were willing to use the death penalty if required; this makes a huge portion of the population, those who do not favor the death penalty, obsolete. Overall, capital punishment could be just too complicated and controversial for our government, and may deserve to be completely abolished throughout the United States.

Categories: Culture: Anthropology

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