Arbitrary, Racist, and Unfair

Twenty years ago, the United States got back into the business of killing its citizens when Gary Gilmore was shot to death by a Utah firing squad. Since then more than 360 people have been put to their deaths in 27 states, and today there are almost 3,500 people awaiting the executioner, more than at any other time in this country's history.

Four out of every five people polled say they favor capital punishment. Many even claim they would like to put non-murderers to death, including child molesters and drug dealers. One south Georgia prison warden recently said, "We ought to take the drug dealers and addicts out and shoot ’em like they do in them Arab countries. That’d stop ’em!"

There is a seeming lust for revenge all across our land, an "eye-for-an-eye" response to wrongdoing that has placed the United States in the company of countries like China, Iraq, and Iran—nations that routinely lead the world in numbers of executions and human rights abuses. The death penalty threatens to become a routine American response to those who offend our society.

That’s why the American Bar Association’s recent call for a moratorium on capital punishment came as exciting and hopeful news to those working to abolish the death penalty. By a more than 2-l margin, the House of Delegates of the nation’s pre-eminent lawyers’ organization voted in February to urge that the country’s execution chambers be shut down, at least until the death penalty can be carried out under the most fair and exacting procedures possible.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1997
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