Reviving the Debate on Capital Punishment

Written by Victor Vuong (First-year Representative)

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BU College Democrats at large.

On January 30th, the Justice Department announced that they would seek the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of detonating bombs with his older brother Tamerlan at the 2013 Boston Marathon. The bombings resulted in the deaths of Krystle Campbell, Martin William Richard, and Lingzi Liu. In addition, 260 were wounded and an MIT police officer, Sean Collier, was later killed during the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers. Although support for the Justice Department’s announcement is quite strong across the country: 70% of people polled across the US support the use of the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Boston has split ways with the rest of the country: 57% of those polled oppose the use of the death penalty, with 33% of those polled in favor. Most Boston residents instead support a sentence of life without parole. Boston residents’ divergence from the rest of the country on this issue has revived some debate about whether capital punishment has a place in modern society.

Proponents of the death penalty claims that it deters crime, makes sure criminals do not commit crimes again, and is a just punishment for crimes as horrible as mass murder, child rape, torture murder, etc. Like most Boston residents, I oppose the death penalty for a number of reasons: it is unjustly implemented across the country, has created a false sense of comfort, which does not resolve the pain caused by a criminal’s actions.

There are a number of injustices present within the legalized system of capital punishment. For one, inspection of execution methods has not been thorough enough. In Ohio, Dennis McGuire, guilty of the rape and fatal stabbing of a pregnant newlywed, took nearly twenty-five minutes to pass away on January 16th and was reported to have gasped and made snorting noises during that time period. McGuire was injected with a combination of drugs never previously tried before in the US. Despite McGuire’s heinous actions, there is no reason why the US should cause pain during execution-it mirrors the behavior of those whom some claim deserve the death penalty for such actions.

Furthermore, there exists doubt on convicts’ culpability in their cases. As new technology has developed, there have been post conviction case exonerations in the US⁵. Although not all the exonerations applied to death row inmates, it nevertheless exemplifies an important failure of the justice system. As long as such a problem exists, the death penalty should never be legal.

Lastly, the death penalty creates a false sense of comfort, because it overshadows the more important issue: how to ever prevent something as horrid as the Boston bombings from occurring ever again. Executing Tsarnaev will not strengthen our police force or improve technology that can help prevent future similar situations from occurring, but continual training of our police force and providing adequate funding for them and for new, more impressive technologies will. Executing Tsarnaev will not resolve the pain or anger in our hearts from what happened.

I recognize that I have not addressed all of the arguments that either opponents or proponents of the death penalty hold and that not all of the issues I have addressed apply to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s case, but they, along with the Justice Department’s announcement, do present another opportunity that we as a society should take, to have a meaningful conversation concerning the death penalty and its relevance in American society.


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