Another good reason to abolish capital punishment

Our world never lacks images and stories that reflect the cruelty and misery that humans are capable of inflicting on each other.

According to the United Nations, 84 million citizens of the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes and suffer the despair of living as refugees. In Afghanistan, one million children under the age of 5 could starve to death by the end of the year. China has forced 2 million people into concentration camps, subjugated Hong Kong and threatened to invade Taiwan.

About 25,000 people die of starvation every day. Child labor, slavery, forced marriages and honor killings are rampant in some parts of the world. In many places, homosexuality is a crime subject to severe penalties. Tribalism and autocracy are on the rise.


In short, despite humanity’s significant advances, our world resides on an unstable, semi-civilized crust that is in constant danger of cracking beneath us and exposing what Tennyson called the “natural” world, “red in the teeth and claws”.

And that’s what we see in Ukraine: a democratic country is attacked by a brutal dictator who has no scruples because of the atrocities committed against civilians.

The war is testing Ukraine’s ability to absorb the harrowing brutality of modern warfare. The elderly, children and even pregnant women are indiscriminately targeted by Russian rockets and artillery.

But if one follows the war in Ukraine closely, everything begins to reflect through his lens.

Here is an example: On March 12, Saudi Arabia staged a mass execution. Details are sketchy, but it is very likely that all 81 victims were beheaded, possibly at a public event. Saudi Arabia does not decapitate with the relatively humane guillotine of the French Revolution. Instead, the victims are decapitated with a sword – if they are lucky – or with a knife. It is a brutal, macabre and painful process.

Critics of the mass beheading argue that many of its 81 victims were executed for political offenses rather than violent crimes. Some were reportedly tortured and tried in secret. A disproportionate number of Shia, suggesting a sectarian bias among Sunni executioners. Due process was undoubtedly lacking.

But despite these judicial failures, it is the image of the gruesome beheading of 81 human beings that should stun us.

It’s the kind of violence that reminds us that our culture, whatever its flaws, is better than the autocracies of Saudi Arabia, Russia or China. Since the end of World War II, the United States has been the inescapable champion of a liberal world order (with a small “l”) that aspires to advance the most civilized values ​​that humanity has developed until present: democracy, individual rights, freedom elections, equality before the law, inclusion, tolerance, maybe even compassion.

The war in Ukraine and the mass executions in Saudi Arabia remind us of the fragility of these values. The attack on Russia is a belligerent expression of the philosophical conflict between the liberal world order and the brutality that lurks just below the surface.

So why do we continue to execute people in our country? Considerable evidence indicates that capital punishment has no deterrent effect, we have never understood how to apply it without regard to race or economic class and no doubt we sometimes execute innocent people.

But in a larger context, it should concern us that we are the latest Western country to commit state-sanctioned murder, traveling in the dubious company of autocracies such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and China. Sure, we don’t commit savagery like beheadings, but several states still use the electric chair, and four states allow execution by firing squad. In some states, hanging is still legal.

The war in Ukraine represents a clash between savagery and a higher liberal world order. The United States is on the right side of this conflict, and it is a distinction between two worldviews that is worth fighting for.

But democracy and its values ​​require constant renewal and renewal. We could start by refusing to allow the state to put people to death for us.

John M. Crisp, columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas and can be reached at [email protected]

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