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What Gives A Government the Right to Kill it’s Own Citizens?

Willie Smith III, ©ALDOC

An Alabamian, Willie Smith, was convicted for the murder and kidnapping of Sharma Ruth Johnson in 1992. As a result, he was sentenced to death; however this sentence was not decided by a unanimous vote, but a 10-2 jury.

Every state with the exception of two, including Alabama, do not allow the death penalty unless there is a unanimous vote by the jury. Smith was scheduled to be executed on February 11, 2021, however the Supreme Court intervened after the Alabama courts denied Smith’s request to have a pastor available in the death chamber.

The Supreme Court granted Willie Smith access to have his pastor in the death chamber during the time of his execution, putting a halt on Smith’s former execution date. Smith’s attorney’s and pastor believe that he is remorseful and understands he committed a heinous crime.

During the trial in 1991, his attorney’s argued his intellectual disability, and even in the present day Smith is not on the intellectual level he is supposed to be for a 51-year-old man. Given that the jury did not unanimously agree to sentence Willie Smith to death, Smith has serious intellectual disabilities, and the Alabama courts did not want to grant Smith a pastor to be in the death chamber during his time of execution, raises the question: is the death penalty justified? 

The death penalty has been around for centuries. The government killing people for heinous crimes or even citizens killing one another for “justifiable” reasons has been an extremely prevalent theme throughout history. However, in the modern day world, what gives the state the right to take a life? 

There are several arguments as to why the death penalty is a justified form of punishment. One of those reasons being because it deters crime. However, numerous studies have found that crime is not detered even if capital punishment is a known option in the justice system. If capital punishment is not proven to deter crime, and there are extensive studies proving that it does not, why do we still believe that it is justified? 

In historical times, executions were public. Executions were something everyone watched, and it was actually common to attend. It was thought to keep citizens in line, and physically show them what could happen if they broke the law. Nonetheless, in modern times the death penalty is something that is done in secrecy. Execution by the government is not up for display because it is barbaric. It is completely unnatural for humans to kill, and feel no remorse. Even if we do believe the person “deserves” death. 

The United States justice system has extensive biases against marginalized groups. It is entirely based on the wealthy being able to get away with anything. We have the ability to pay to get someone out of jail, and those who can not afford to pay must remain remanded until their trial. There are many biases in jury selection as well as the overall corruption in the justice system. In Willie Smith’s case he could not afford representation, therefore the courts had to appoint attorneys to him. The current justice system has too many faults to sufficiently and accurately determine if a life should be taken. 

Moreover, from a Christian or even religious standpoint it is completely against any religion to take someone’s life. From this point of view, only a higher power has the right to kill. Humans do not have the right to kill other humans. We learn from a very early age “two wrongs do not make a right” So, why do we believe that taking another human life equates “justice”? 

Killing a convicted felon does not bring anyone back from the dead. It does not heal those who have been wronged in the utmost way. It does not prevent future violent crimes from occuring. It does bring any sort of peace to our country. It is ridiculously expensive, it is barbaric, and it is wrong. Capital punishment goes completely against our humanity, and is an outdated governmental practice. The fact that the United States government still executes it’s citizens as punishment is absurd. 

When Willie Smith is finally put to death, the government will have killed a 51-year-old man with intellectual disabilities, a man who could not afford his own representation, a man who did not have a full jury believe he should be put to death, and a man who is willing to spend the rest of his life in prison barring execution. Willie Smith will be killed on the Alabama taxpayers dime. His death can not be justified because a life for a life is not justice. Any human with a conscience is aware of that.

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Made By Students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham