Photo from Unsplash by Hedi Benyounes

Like many Americans, we’re unsettled by the death penalty. On one hand, we understand the argument that there are some evil people in this world who commit such heinous acts that they should not continue to have the privilege of life. Rather, they should meet their maker sooner than later. It’s an Old Testament “eye for an eye” world view.

In the New Testament, we meet Jesus who preached love and forgiveness but was put to death by the state. As with anything related to the Bible, proponents and opponents of the death penalty can cherry-pick scripture to support their positions. But we’re drawn to the pithy moral argument summarized by Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in a 1981 speech:

“As one whose husband and mother-in-law have died the victims of murder and assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses. An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by a legalized murder.”

At the end of the month, South Carolina will get into the killing business again when it is scheduled to execute a man who has chosen to die by firing squad. This method is a recent option that replaced lethal injection due to the lack of available death drugs because drug manufacturers no longer wanted to make those drugs, apparently for liability reasons. (As an aside, none of this makes sense because there’s one obvious death drug that’s everywhere. In the age of fentanyl, thousands have overdosed on small amounts unintentionally.)

South Carolina law requires a death row inmate to have two execution options. But because one hasn’t been available for years, executions ordered by courts have been held in abeyance. Now with the addition of death by firing squad as a choice, they can resume.

But whether they should resume is another question. One can easily argue that sentencing a person to life in prison without the possibility of parole is more of a punishment than simply ending a life. In the first instance, the prisoner lingers, potentially for years, in what can best be described as a living hell on earth. In the second, the prisoner dies, but is freed from the hell of this world for the great beyond, whatever it brings. Some may argue that the second is better for the prisoner because it is more humane. 

Regardless of your position on the death penalty, what’s crystal clear is that it does not act as a deterrent. It’s obviously not stopping mass shootings, two — yes, two — of which occurred in South Carolina over the Easter weekend. It’s nothing short of miraculous that no one died in a Columbia mall shooting in which nine were shot and five injured in the rush to escape. Or at a Hampton County nightclub where nine also were shot. 

Let’s seriously reconsider the death penalty, but more importantly, let’s figure out how to thwart conditions that lead someone to pick up a gun and pull the trigger. 


Help the City Paper keep delivering excellence

Winner of top 2021 state journalism honors (best editorial writing and best cartoon), the Charleston City Paper brings you the Best of Charleston every day. Support our “unafraid” journalism with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.