By MbaLuka Michael Mutinda, Youth Activist and AIUSA Ladis Kristof Fellow.
On Wednesday, Kimberly McCarthy may eat her last meal. Barring a last-minute stay, she will be led down the hallways of Huntsville Penitentiary, make a last statement, and be given a lethal injection that will stop first her breathing and then her heart. She will be Texas’ 500th execution.
The death penalty is emblematic of the many problems still prevalent, not only in the American justice system, but in society as a whole. Capital punishment is racially and economically biased. It places more value on some victims over others. Since 1976, 260 black defendants have been executed for murdering white victims, but only 20 white defendants have received the same sentence for murdering black victims. Death sentences also depend more on geography than the severity of a crime.
And yet, death sentences can be wrong. In the last 40 years, 142 death row inmates have had their innocence proven. This margin of error alone should awaken us to the deep flaws in the system. You cannot have absolute punishment without absolute certainty.
Part of the country seems to have gotten the message. Sixteen U.S. states have officially abolished the death penalty and others have imposed moratoriums. They are part of a global move towards abolition. In 1967, only 16 countries in the world didn’t execute prisoners. Today, more than two-thirds of the world’s countries have abolished the death penalty in either law or practice.
While the death penalty is declining nationally, it is actually on the rise in Texas. There are better alternatives to capital punishment as death is the one thing that cannot be reversed. Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, 1,336 prisoners have been executed in the United States. Texas alone accounts for more than a third of that number.
Do these numbers matter? Most of the prisoners on death row are guilty of the crimes they have been convicted of. Why should we work to protect their right to life?
It’s dangerous to claim certain portions of humanity don’t deserve to be protected. Denying people their basic human rights, no matter how despicable their crimes, sets a dangerous precedent, and engaging in eye-for-an-eye mentality puts us in the same category as China and Saudi Arabia.
The United States ranks fifth in the world for highest number of documented executions – behind Iran and Saudi Arabia, ahead of Yemen and Sudan.
While some in Texas will see the 500th execution milestone as a badge of honor, I will view it as a stain on our American character and continue to speak out against it.