Students debate the morality of capital punishment in the U.S.

Monika Jorde

News Reporter

Part two of a two part series

The sensational events surrounding the controversial execution of pickax murderer Karla Faye Tucker faded shortly after she took her last breath. Media attention has steered towards other events. Six weeks after her death, however, students and faculty at the University of Houston still debate the morality of capital punishment in the United States.

"The individual in the United States constitutionally doesn't have the right to kill somebody, and why should the state?" asked Andrew Szabados, a senior German major who opposes the existing U.S. standard on the death penalty.

Another student, Andy Smith, freshman communication major, argued that the existing forms of punishment, including the death penalty, have to be respected as they are based on laws that were written to deal with those problems.

"People know the consequences, and they should be punished according to (them)," he said.

On the other hand, senior music major Joie Clee said the death penalty brings out "the worst in human beings."

This debate concerns the reasons the United States still employs the death penalty, Clee said.

People have become too comfortable with the way institutions rule, she said.

"That needs to change," she continued. "It doesn't mean that we shouldn't have any punishment at all, but people got used to the conservative way they were raised, and they let the government handle their problems and decide for them."

Szabados said he believes the United States is "constitutionally immature as the young country it is."

"Other countries have experienced severe abuse of the death penalty by authorities as... (has) happened in the Second World War, but the U.S. never was really involved in that," he said.

UH law professor David Dow has a distinct opinion of the United States' persistent use of capital punishment.

"It has to do with the spirit the country has had since the 18th and 19th century, with this big macho-cowboy idea," Dow said.

"The United States has of itself the image of the international kind of cowboy, dispensing justice with the hand on the gun. Either you do the right thing or we kill you."

There have been trends to end the death penalty, Dow said. By they early 1960s, most American states had ceased to carry out executions. In 1967, a moratorium on all death penalty cases was imposed, and in 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that all death penalty statutes then in force were unconstitutional.

However, in the following years, a number of states started to rewrite their death penalty laws and to legalize the practice. In 1976, the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty.

"Part of it was public pressure," Dow said. "Whereas, in the 1970s five out of 10 American favored the death penalty, currently more than 80 percent of the public want the death penalty."

One of the main reasons the United States favors the death penalty today is its high violence and crime rates, said Robert Buzzanco, a UH history professor.

"People are scared, and they want to see the politicians deal with crime," Buzzanco said.

The sources of crime in the United States are the lack of a social safety net and an unequal societal system, he added.

Europe, for instance, has free education, unemployment payment and state-sponsored medical care, while in the United States the individual must care for himself, Buzzanco said.

"Instead of dealing with those sources of crime, the politicians use the death penalty as an easy way to appease people and to make them feel safe."

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