The publicity surrounding the execution of Troy Davis on September 21, 2011 sparked contemplation of my views on usage of the death penalty as punishment. I have come to somewhat of an ethical dilemma. The focus on racially biased policies of the death penalty are a clear violation of the human rights of the victims; the penalty is disproportionately enforced for blacks who allegedly kill whites. This is clearly demonstrated by Amnesty International and other organizations that strive to protect human rights.
My opinion is that the death penalty should be abolished to preserve human rights. The ethical conflict that I began to debate with myself is: how does the death penalty relates to abortion? I align my self with the liberal belief of womens right to choose. There is something about this that seems to present an ethical contradiction. The debate surrounding both of these issues can be a polarizing force to say the least. This post is an attempt to wrestle with my internal conflict.
Disproportionate enforcement of the death penalty has a foundation in racist institutions that uphold the white majority’s position of dominance. The criminal justice system in the United States does not seem to be an effective mechanism of rehabilitation. The system fails to reintegrate former prisoners into society and there is a high recidivism rate due to this negligence. The system seems to be broken. There is a social necessity for prisons as institutions, though life behind bars seems to be as much of a violation of human rights as the death penalty does. There is certainly a need for a correctional system, but the current one does not work. In a twisted way I can view the death penalty as a potential liberating force for an individual who will spend the rest of their life in jail.
My personal ideology is that people should have freedom of individual autonomy to the degree that there exercising of this right does not negatively impact the lives of others. This is the foundation of my belief in womens right to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy.
On the same day the Troy Davis was put to death a white prisoner in Texas received the death penalty. The crimes committed by Lawrence Russell Brewer lead to the heinous, racially charged, murder of a black man. On September 21 the media coverage put Davis in the spotlight, and largely ignored Brewer. I read the focus on Davis as implicitly stating that justice has been served in regard to Brewer. Brewer demonstrated no regard for human life in the act of murder, and beyond this he clearly expressed hatred and disdain for another human in a manner that would likely continue. Is is possible that there are times when the death penalty is a just mechanism for societies retribution in crimes of hate?
I do not fundamentally believe in an eye for an eye, but I am struggling with my own beliefs.
How does this all relate to the right of women to choose abortion? Amnesty International vehemently opposes the use of the death penalty, the organization supports the right of at risk women to choose to abort pregnancy. The stance of AI has been harshly criticized by the Catholic Church.
From a press release on June 14, 2007:
Defending the right of women to sexual and reproductive integrity in the face of grave human rights violations, Amnesty International recently incorporated a focus on selected aspects of abortion into its broader policy on sexual and reproductive rights. These additions do not promote abortion as a universal right and Amnesty International remains silent on the rights and wrongs of abortion.
The position of AI is not one that protects the right of abortion for all women, they specifically avoid entering the debate on the ethics of abortion. They seek protection of the rights of women who have been wronged by acts of rape. Abortion is a means of preventing further stigma that would result from the birth of a child after an atrocious act of violence.
I think their framing of this right, and their avoidance of making a policy statement on the larger issue of abortion are both interesting. The exclusion of a larger opinion concerning abortion is a political maneuver. There appears to be a discrepancy between this statement and the vehement opposition of the death penalty. This is mirrored by liberal support of the right to abortion, and opposition of the death penalty.
I am fully cognizant of the fact that these are both heated topics. My purpose is not to inflame or incite, I am honestly grappling with something that I view as a potential ethical conflict in my own ideology. My personal belief is that there is an inherent complexity in ideologies that we take for granted, and I am attempting to formulate a cohesive train of thought. My conclusion is that enforcement of the death penalty is a violation of human rights, even in situations where the penalty seems just (as with Brewer); I also see external enforcement of a woman’s body as a similar violation of human rights. It is from this stance that I feel just in my opposition of the death penalty, and support for the right to abortion.