COMMENTARY: I’ve argued against capital punishment my whole adult life. Two religious leaders in New Mexico have shared some of my same arguments on the Las Cruces Sun-News’ editorial page, and I have to offer some additional thoughts, which I hope you will take time to consider.
I won’t go into the DNA-proving-innocence argument, which I believe is compelling also, but my biggest objection has long been that we as a society lower ourselves to the level of killers when we perpetuate legal killing.
The message of the death penalty is that we condone judging someone to be expendable and then disposing of them. How is that so different from what a murderer does? How does that help anyone believe killing is not the answer?
My next objection is that capital punishment is itself not a deterrent to crime. If someone is going to commit a crime and pauses long enough to consider the consequences, what is a far greater deterrent is if it is likely a perpetrator is going to be caught. Heaping on the penalties or threatening the “ultimate penalty” is not much of a threat if criminals can reasonably expect not to get caught.
My third argument goes to the injunction in our United States Constitution against “cruel and unusual” punishment. When the methods used sometimes result in people suffering for prolonged periods of time, that is cruel. When the penalty is increasingly rarely used, that makes it unusual.
Instead of heading back down the path of our brutal past, let us instead focus on how we indeed make our lives longer and safer. Let us ensure that those who threaten our bodies or our lives are quickly identified and speedily put on a path that is safer for all of us.
Let us show that we respect life and we want to see violent crime effectively reduced more than we want revenge.
Gregory Z. Smith represents District 2 on the Las Cruces City Council and is the mayor pro tem.