The question our society should be asking is not: Do you believe that people who commit murders should be punished? The answer to that is obvious. The question that gets to the heart of the matter is: What’s the fairest, most efficient, and most effective way to punish people who commit the worst crimes? When you ask it that way, the death penalty is clearly not the answer.
On the heels of Arkansas’ rush to execute four inmates, several U.S. states are restarting executions after an extended hiatus. Ohio has an unbelievable 26 executions planned, and California — home to the nation’s largest death row, almost 750 people — has just moved toward setting execution dates after a decade without them. North Carolina’s 11-year hiatus is still in place, but only constant vigilance will ensure it stays that way.
Prosecutors might tell you they need the death penalty to punish the “worst of the worst.” But in practice, that’s not how the death penalty is used in North Carolina. Our state spends millions each year to pursue death sentences that are arbitrary and unnecessary, and uses the threat of death as a negotiation tactic to pressure defendants to accept plea bargains — sometimes putting innocent lives on the line.
Not long ago, Arkansas was much like North Carolina. It hadn’t executed a death row inmate in more than a decade, and the death penalty appeared to be quietly fading away. How quickly things change. Today, Arkansas is fresh off four executions carried out in the space of eight days. The message to North Carolina is we cannot afford to become complacent. It’s up to us to make sure North Carolina doesn’t become the next Arkansas.
Like N.C., Arkansas hasn’t executed a prisoner in more than a decade. Now, with its execution drugs about to expire, Arkansas has crafted a crazy plan to turn its death chamber into a factory, executing eight men during a 10-day period in April and setting a national record. It is yet another example of the horror show that the American death penalty has become, and a reminder why N.C. is better off staying out of the business of executions.
The juror who voted to sentence Kenneth Rouse to die believed that African-Americans were naturally more prone to commit crimes because “blacks do not care about living as much as whites do.” By his own admission, “bigotry” was a key factor in his decision on Rouse’s case. This kind of open racism has been allowed in jury rooms for too long. Now the U.S. Supreme Court says states must address it.
Duane Buck was sentenced to death after an expert deemed him inherently dangerous because of his race. The racism in his trial was blatant, yet it still took 20 years for him to win a new sentencing hearing. Just like Texas, North Carolina fights every day to execute people whose trials were stained by racial bias.
If those who want executions to resume in North Carolina get their way, we will find ourselves in the same position as Arizona — where experimental drugs led to a 2-hour botched execution, federal agents seized the state’s illegally purchased execution drugs, and now inmates are being asked to bring their own drugs to their executions. The death penalty has become a grim circus.
In 2016, N.C. passed the decade mark with no executions and sentenced just one new person to death. Yet, our state continues to spend millions each year to maintain the sixth largest death row in the nation — 150 aging people, the vast majority of whom have been there for more than a decade, with no executions on the horizon.
Dylann Roof could have been quietly and simply sent to prison for the rest of his life. Instead, his death penalty trial has become an international spectacle where, acting as his own lawyer, he will get to cross examine survivors and victims’ families. Even in the worst crimes, the death penalty serves no one.