Today, everyone in Australia is thinking about the death penalty.
Two Australian men, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, are living out their final days on earth. Soon, Andrew and “Myu”, as he’s known to family and friends, will be gone, shot in the dead of night by armed guards who will never know if they were the ones who fired the fatal bullets.
Today, we stand against the death penalty, and only hope that, despite all the odds, it is not too late for mercy.
If you also stand for mercy, and find yourself debating today’s brutal stance with someone who thinks we need to be ‘Tough on crime’, here are five reasons – courtesy of Amnesty International – that the heinous act of retribution is never justified.
1. When they say: “We need to be ‘tough on crime.”
Everyone agrees that crime is bad and we need to stop it. This seems sensible and logical in every way, until we ask the question: do we need the death penalty to be ‘tough’ on crime? The answer is no, we don’t.
The fallacy that crueller punishments deter crime doesn’t take into account that there are complex social and economic factors that drive crime rates, and secondly, that criminals don’t often plan on getting caught or think through all the consequences of their actions.
Simplified statistics don’t help either.
Did you know that since Canada stopped executing, the murder rate has dropped by 44 per cent? Does this mean that stopping executions will stop murders? Of course not, but it does demonstrate that the issues that drive and prevent crime are too complex to fit into a one line statistic or sound-byte.
Whichever way you look at it, killing another human isn’t humane, not even close. And when you get to the details it is simply vengeful and cruel.
The point here is that preventing crime takes long-term research into the causes, effective police work and rehabilitation. All of which can happen without the use of the death penalty.
2. When they say: “They did the crime, they should do the time’
Various iterations of this comment came thick and fast when Amnesty began calling for the clemency of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Ironically, with the death penalty, we are not talking about time, we are talking about the opposite.
Both men acknowledge their crimes and recognise that they must face punishment. But a death sentence deprives people of the opportunity to reform. Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are great examples of reform, one running art classes and the other studying to be a pastor. Their reform has come so far that a former governor of Kerobokan prison has argued they shouldn’t be executed.
This clip, made in Indonesia featuring young Indonesians, spells out how barbaric this sentence is.
Many others who languish on death row across the world have acknowledged their crime and reformed. There is no benefit to the state in killing these people, a senseless deprivation of life.
The immediate counter argument is that the threat of death forces people to reform. Again, the evidence for this simply isn’t conclusive.
Criminal justice systems the world over have had great success of reform without the threat of death, and often due to programs that focus on offender rehabilitation.
3. When they say: “The criminal justice system is fair.”
Ask any criminal lawyer whether or not the amount of legal resources available on a particular case makes a difference and they will give you a deadpan ‘yes’. Legal support might not get the verdict is changed, but mitigating circumstances can be presented, alternate arguments explored and evidence double-checked. All of this makes a difference to whether a death sentence is handed down.