June 22, 2000, a day when technology such as computers, cameras, worldwide contact, and space shuttles, is a part of daily life. Still, this is a day to grieve. This is the day that the 36-year-old American, Gary L. Graham was executed.
According to Amnesty International, who thoroughly researches the death penalty because they oppose it, Gary Graham was exposed to several types of violence in his youth. Growing up with a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic father drug and alcohol abuse were a part of his life. Under the influence of both and in order to survive, Graham started to steal food, money, anything. Although his life is what America could grieve, because nobody needs to grow up like this; America should grieve for his death.
When he was 17 years old Gary had apparently fired the fatal shot that killed Bobby Lambert. Although real evidence was never found, Gary was found guilty. In his trial, his lawyers were either too busy, not interested, inexperienced, or convinced that he was guilty, because they failed to interview those who could have plead him innocent, because they did not identify him as the murderer. Because of inadequate legal representation, on June 22 this year, Gary Graham was executed in Texas. “One of his lawyers has admitted:” I have serious questions whether we presented a fair trial and adequate defense”” (USA Concern over execution of the innocent 1).
The first juvenile execution in the United States of America was in 1642, when the states, or colonies, were not even united. In the Plymouth colony of Massachusetts, Thomas Graunger was executed (on the wrong side of history 1). Since then at least 361 people have been executed in the United States of America for a crime that they committed when they were under the age of 18.
People refer to the time between 1973 and now as the “last era”. In that era through August 2000, 17 men have been executed for crimes committed as juveniles. Of those 17 men one, Sean Sellers, was 16 at the time he committed his crime, while all the others were 17. Although they were all teenagers when they made the mistake that sentenced them to death, the actual execution was and still is 6 to 20 years later (Streibe 1).
From the numbers of executed juveniles as well as adults the state of Texas “leads” with the amount of people executed. The real peak occurred when George Bush became governor of Texas in January 1995. Since then over 120 prisoners were executed, several of whose cases left serious questions about the guilt of the executed person.
Besides Texas, 37 other states include the death penalty in their system of justice. From those 38, 23 states, including Texas, also murder those who committed a crime while being a juvenile. To name all 17 men, I would feel obliged to tell you their story so you could understand what happened. But that is not what I want to focus on during this speech. If you are still curious about them, feel free to come and ask me. What I can tell right now is that in the last era from those 17 I mentioned before, 3 were executed in Virginia so far (Streibe 2,6 &7).
Jerry Mooney, waiting on death row, once reacted: “To condemn me to death solves nothing. To be condemned is to say my life has no positive value, I’m beyond correction or rehabilitation. That’s not true” (Story of Sean Sellers 2).
This one statement he made explains the government’s reason for practicing the death penalty. These kind of people are not able to live in this society. They are dangerous, and nothing can make them better, so therefore they should die. But the history, and mental history of the accused juvenile Alexander Williams, who is facing the death penalty in Georgia, sheds another light on this reasoning. His story is very similar to that of Gary Graham. Only in this case his lawyer failed to convince the jury that Williams should not be executed because of his mental illness. He was abused throughout his whole childhood.
“When he was toddler, she (his mother) struck him with cooking utensils, sticks, branches, and the spiked edge of her glass shoes”(Urgent Alert 1).
Should his right to life be taken away because of something his mother had done to him when he was little? His story shows how much influence the government can have on the people. Because of the government being the one to justify something so simply as murder, the government is actually saying that group of people can decide by the facts presented whether somebody should be killed or not.
If Alexander Williams becomes convicted, he will be a part of the two-third black men who have to face death penalty for their crime instead of any other solution. This is significant because “although African Americans constitute almost half of all juvenile homicide victims, two thirds of the victims in juvenile death penalty cases are white (Question and answers 2).
Since May 1, 2000, A child sentenced to death will get a lethal injection instead of being electrified. Although that may seem less painful, the story of a man whose execution was broadcasted on TV showed the opposite. The reason why nobody knows, maybe the executer was very nervous, but whatever the reason may have been, it took 18 whole minutes for the man to die. In the mean time he could feel the pain of the injection going in his blood, thinking every good thing he had done in is life didn’t count anymore, all that counted was that he was needed nor wanted in the society anymore. And his family had no other option, than watch and cry (Amnesty International questions and answers 7).
Knowing all this information, why do people think it is necessary to use the death penalty to correct or improve society?
Ernest van Den Haag, a death penalty supporter, said: “ Each case is different. While some are quite immature, others are quite mature.” He thinks that those boys who are mature and have been able to let the feeling of responsibility be a part of their life, should be punished, because they can be on the thinking level as many adults. Others think that it is only fair to want revenge. Those people think it is only fair for the family of the murdered person that the murderer gets murdered as well. According to those that is the way society should be handled; if I hit you, then you may hit me back. Although many don’t think that, they see the death penalty as a fair trial for the family and a good way of preventing the society. But when one asks them what they would do if somebody would hit them, they would almost all say they would talk to a solution first. Then there are those who are more sensitive and emotional and think that locking up a person for lifetime is more cruel than killing instantly.
“ Most murders are committed by very young people. Immunizing them against the death penalty means that they will be able to murder again in prison and out; further, the group most inclined to murder- male youths- would not be threatened with the most sever penalty” (Van Den Haag 83).
The world has provided different solutions, some are to replace the death penalty, others to make it fairer, so cases as Graham wouldn’t leave questions. The most important recent improvement evolved because of the growth of the knowledge of technology. New technology has produced a process called DNA testing, which I assume you all have heard at least a little bit about. With this DNA, tests show whether very personal property from the killer found on the victim, such as blood and hair belongs to the accused person. But this is also not always accurate. Sometimes somebody who has met the victim just before he or she was murdered could have left a trace such as a lost hair.
To replace the death penalty some cases end up in lifetime imprisonment, or other punishments in which the victim has either a change to prove its innocence or learn from what he/she has done.
Critics like Victor R. Streibe, who is an opponent of the death penalty, would argue that the death penalty for juveniles does not act as a deterrent to them, and should be abolished. He stated: “Harsh punishments for violent crimes are only temporary band-aid solutions, with the only long-term solutions coming from cleaning up the neighborhood, schools, and societal structures that continue to generate such violent teenagers.” Instead of investing more money in the actual execution, maybe it’s time to invest money in the neighborhoods where it is necessary (Streibe 5).
There are world wide and national organizations such as Amnesty International and ACLU who promote the awareness of the effects of the death penalty. They are against the death penalty and try to convince others to become so as well. Their organizations grow every day because of this awareness and people who support their ideas. To make people recognize what is really going on in the world they try educate as much as possible. Amnesty International, for example, is a part of the society lessons taught in Europe. In those lessons they learn how to be a part of society, and how they and others react to certain events. Teaching children is a very important since they are the future leaders. Other things such organizations do are protest, provide information on events and collect signatures.
“The execution of a juvenile offender is contrary to fundamental principles of American justice which punishes according to the degree of culpability and reserves the death penalty for the worst of the worst offenders. By their very nature, teenagers are less matures, and therefore less culpable, than adults who commit similar acts but have no such explanation for their conduct- adolescence is a transitional period of life when cognitive abilities, emotions, judgment, impulse, control, and identity are still developing. Indeed, immaturity is the reason we do not allow those under 18 to assume the major responsibilities of adulthood such as military combat service, voting, entering into contracts, drinking alcohol, or making medical decisions. A number of organizations urge that the execution for a crime committed while a juvenile is simply unacceptable in a civilized society” (Urgent Alert 3)
This is a very important reason why the death penalty should be abolished. If not, the government should consider those major responsibilities of adulthood.
It is not part of the government’s obligation to kill people in cold blood. Whether a person already killed somebody or not, the death penalty a broader way of seeing what we learns as children to be wrong. You don’t hit back when somebody hits you, you try to solve it first, and then you seek for help if it doesn’t work. The death penalty is doing the opposite; it’s hitting back. Only this hit is so fatal, that the “victim” has no change of ever trying to do something good to you so you will forgive him for what he had done wrong once.
And not one study has shown that the method of killing is more effective in society than giving them a change to do something right. In fact the opposite is true, because research suggests that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent. 80 % of experts from the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Law and Society Association who did a study on the death penalty for juveniles “believe the existing research fails to support a deterrence justification for the death penalty” (questions and answers 2).
Instead the root of the problem needs to be worked on. As Victor Streibe suggested, the problem should be dealt with in the places where it is caused, families, schools and neighborhoods. Those are the places that make the difference in a child’s behavior and future life. Therefore more education should be provided, because education is a key to intelligence. In the upper schools, information about the death penalty with causes and effects, such as the Amnesty International program in Europe, would be a good start. Their subject would be to discuss the issues caused by the death penalty and without it, because they will be the future voters, they are the one who can make a change in this system.
Since Bush became governor in Texas, “he never used his power to grant a 30- day vote reprieve even not in cases which concerned a possible innocence”.
My only solution about this problem is very simply, but very effective; don’t vote for Bush.
If he becomes the president, think of what would happen to the USA. Keep in mind those numbers from Texas; what if you are suddenly accused of a murder? Bush isn’t going to save you.
The government is supposed to set the right example for society. And by killing its children, it’s saying that it is ok to take revenge. The government should set the right example by not killing, because that is what executing is, its children. Everybody deserves a second chance in life. The benefit of the government not doing so is that it shows the people of the United States of America they have a system of justice in which they can believe.