To Die For | Sojourners

To Die For

The death penalty is nothing more than revenge.

Recently the world looked on in horror as 22 Rwandans were executed for their roles in the African nation’s 1994 massacres that killed at least 500,000. Even more disturbing to the international community was the dancing, clapping, and whooping of the nearly 10,000 onlookers who turned out for the spectacle. The United States was among the nations speaking out against the punishment.

That same week the U.N. Human Rights Commission issued a stinging report that called for the United States to suspend all executions, saying, "A significant degree of unfairness and arbitrariness in the administration of the death penalty...still prevails." The report rebukes the United States for executing people for crimes committed as juveniles and people who are mentally retarded. It also found that race and economics play a major role in determining the severity of sentences. Religious leaders and human rights activists who have long called for doing away with capital punishment hailed the report.

Last year 74 executions were carried out in the United States. Consider this:

  • Recently in Virginia the execution of a Paraguayan man was carried out in spite of the protests of the World Court, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and appeals from around the world. At the time of his arrest the man had been denied his right to counsel from his embassy.
  • In an Arizona case, a Honduran man who had been denied similar rights was executed despite appeals from the president of Honduras.
  • A Texas state legislator has introduced legislation that would make children as young as 11 death-penalty eligible. In Pontiac, Michigan, a 12-year-old boy is being tried as an adult for a murder he committed at age 11.
  • In Denver, a local radio station called for listeners to drive by the station and honk if they wanted to "fry" Timothy McVeigh. Twenty-four thousand Coloradans did so. A Detroit News columnist hoped he’d catch fire in the chair, writing that "nothing smells better than a well-done mass murderer."

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1998
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