17291733 - golden scales of justice, gavel and books on brown background

The death penalty brings out the worst parts of people and our society. If I were to ask any person I meet on the street if killing is wrong, I’d expect nearly everyone to say “yes.” But if I ask someone whether they support the death penalty, about half the time the answer is “yes.”

Why the disconnect? Why do half of the people in this state think that it makes sense to kill people to teach others that killing is wrong?

A recent op-ed submitted by David Leibowitz offers some insight into this phenomenon of moral crisis. Mr. Leibowitz does not view the people on death row as human beings. Instead, he refers to them as “scumbags” who are unworthy of the dignity of a last meal. It makes sense that a proponent of the death penalty views others as less than human. How else could someone support killing another human being with a legalized form of torture? 

Never mind that death penalty proponents like Mr. Leibowitz don’t seem to understand the broken legal fictions that allow for a small number of murderers to be sentenced to death. Or that of those who are sentenced to death, the race of the defendant or victim, political ideology of the prosecutor or legislature, or financial resources of the jurisdiction where the crimes are committed have more to do with obtaining a death sentence than the facts of the crime. Mr. Leibowitz isn’t interested in facts, process or law. He and others are more concerned with the emotional vindication associated with killing a killer with drugs which are clandestinely obtained via procedures that are largely cloaked from public view and scrutiny.

If Arizona resumes its experiment with death seven years after it tortured Joseph Wood to death with a botched lethal injection that lasted an hour and 57 minutes, will you take solace knowing that you, too, can kill and torture someone in the name of justice?

Justice is trending toward the abolition of the death penalty. Virginia is poised to become the 23rd state to abolish it. The United States routinely joins authoritarian countries such as China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran on lists of countries that killed the most people via execution in a single year, whereas 70% of the world refuses to kill for justice.

If Arizona proceeds with the plan to inject prisoners with pentobarbital, a drug that causes “extreme pain” and creates a “a virtual medical certainty, that most, if not all, prisoners will experience excruciating suffering, including sensations of drowning and suffocation,” I know that I will not rejoice at such horror being inflicted on another human being in my name.

If the prospect of such torture elates you, that sense of elation terrifies me. Please join me in exploring alternatives to state-sponsored torture and murder. I am confident that once you become informed of the process, the failure of death ideology to reduce crime, and the prospect for meaningful and effective reform, you, too, will take pause and question whether any human being is a “scumbag” deserving of such a cruel and inhumane death.