Friday, March 27, 2009

The Death Penalty and the company we keep.

There was an interesting little article in Wednesday's New York Times by Mark McDonald and Michael Wines that reported on Amnesty International's recent annual report on the death penalty for 2008. Now I know this is an emotional subject for many people and that opinions are strongly divided as to the necessity of this practice as a deterrent to the proliferation of violent crime, but sometimes if we step back and see who were are lying in concert with we might be surprised.

I found it telling who the leading practitioners of the death penalty were in order of their body count. At the top of the list was China with its 1.718 reported kills (this number is believed to be suspect since everything in China is done with a veil of secrecy). The runner-up was that "axis of evil' member nation Iran, certainly a bastion of intellectual thought and free of expression. Here the Iranians racked up 346 kills! Not to be outdone, our friends in the more progressive and cosmopolitan sheikdom of Saudi Arabia, were ranked third with 102 kills. Then guess who was next on this ignominious list? You got it friends, we were. The United States, a beacon for free thinking,humanitarianism and an advocate against human rights abuse in other nations had a total of 37 executions! According to the Death Penalty Information Center the state with the most executions last year was Texas with 18! Those progressive folks in Pakistan, where woman are still buried alive for not following the marital wishes of their families, actually killed one less person than we did last year.

I recognize that our prisons are overflowing and that the cost for maintaining a life sentence far exceeds the cost of a lethal injection or the kilowatts used in an electrocution, but really is the price of our humanity so easily bought?

If the old adage "You are judged by the company you keep." applies here we had better look at ourselves and our practices more closely. Thankfully the number of 37 executions this year is the lowest since 1994, so we are making progress, but we need to catch up to the majority of civilized society and eliminate this dated and unseemly practice.

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