Why Conservatives Should Oppose the Death Penalty
by Destiny Herndon-de La Rosa
Not a day goes by that I don’t log onto my Facebook, sign into my email, or stream through a thread of tweets declaring one thing loudly: The government is corrupt on almost all levels and something must be done to take away its power.
This might not be everyone’s experience, but as a lifelong conservative, I’ve collected quite a few Republican friends, from far right-wing Christian activists to those fun-loving log cabin types. We disagree on much of the minutiae, but the one thing that holds our herd together is our leeriness of big government. As Lord Acton so famously put it, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That’s why I will never understand conservatives’ willingness to give this entity, which they’ve deemed untrustworthy, the ultimate in absolute power: the ability to kill its own citizens.
A few years ago I took a step back from the Grand Old Party because, as a pro-lifer, I was tired of the inconsistencies. They’re everywhere, on both sides politically, but the ones on the right just happened to turn my stomach first. Here we were, standing out on sidewalks in front of abortion clinics, offering women in crisis help and free medical care, often through state-run programs. Then every election cycle I saw Republicans encouraging others to vote down the very services that allowed these women to choose life.
We’d talk about loving our neighbor like Christ, then I watched as an angry mob of “good Christian” conservatives hurled the most vitriolic insults at buses full of immigrant children whose parents were so desperate to get them to safety, they paid coyotes to take them across the border, scared and alone. These children, these human beings, were just looking for a small bit of what we were all “blessed” to inherit by no effort of our own. And because many of us were born into these blessings, our conservative beliefs come quite easily. The death penalty being no exception.
If you were raised in middle-class America, received a decent education and have the benefit of viewing law enforcement as your protector and not those you need protection from, then I understand why you might think the state should have the right to enforce laws as it sees fit. However, that’s where another inconsistency arises, along with perhaps some common ground.
Many people of privilege like to sit around Young Republican cocktail parties and decry the atrocities of the federal government, myself included. We talk about the big headline issues: Hillary’s emails, Benghazi, Obama’s most recent vacation. We question where the money is coming from and going to. We question the corruption. However, seldom do we talk about the small headlines; the stuff that actually impacts our own communities — and the people who weren’t invited to the cocktail party.
Private prisons have managed to incentivize incarcerations, turning prisoners into profit margins. That’s corrupt. It is highly likely that the state of Texas has executed an innocent man while a “pro-life” governor sat in office. That’s inconsistent. Since 1973, 140 death row inmates nationwide have been exonerated. That’s scary as hell. Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 82 percent of all executions have taken place in the south (37 percent in Texas alone), and according to Amnesty International an overwhelming majority of those who end up on death row were not able to afford an attorney. That removes the very justice we claim to cling to in our justice system. And that is happening in our backyard.
So why do so many “pro-life” conservatives still support the death penalty in Texas? I imagine it’s because we feel a safe enough distance from this type of government corruption to not worry about it. We don’t have a rap sheet that could be used to incriminate us if there was an accidental house fire that killed three of our children, landing any one of us on a cold metal table with a lethal injection in the arm.
Our privilege pushes our sentences down to just six months, so as not to deter your bright futures. So we turn a blind eye. We go back to tweeting about “Obummers Trip to Hawaii,” and decide not to share articles like this on our Facebook, for fear our friends will uninvited us to the monthly Young Republican cocktail party. And right now, that’s really the only consistency in our lives.
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa is active with New Wave Feminists. This column was first published as an editorial in the Dallas Morning News, June 15, 2016
For more of our blog posts on a conservative look at issues of violence, see:
Nukes and the Pro-Life Christian: A Conservative Takes a Second Look at the Morality of Nuclear Weapons.
Making the Case for Peace to Conservatives
“That’s why I will never understand conservatives’ willingness to give this entity, which they’ve deemed untrustworthy, the ultimate in absolute power: the ability to kill its own citizens.”
There are a couple of things wrong with this sentence. First, the “ability to kill its own citizens” is not an absolute power. It only has the legitimate authority to take the life of a guilty person, and a guilty person who has only committed a capital crime. That’s not an absolute power.
Second, it hasn’t been granted the government, it’s been granted the courts. A person is sentenced to death by a judge after a fair trial by a jury of his peers. It’s not like a state governor or the president can just arbitrarily decide to kill people because capital punishment is legal.
I no longer consider myself a Republican, but I am still very much a conservative. It is not inconsistent at all to support capital punishment while opposing big government. In fact, the logical consequence of your argument is that we should do away with our legal system altogether, because why should we give our government the absolute right to lock people away in prison, sometimes for their entire lives?
” Here we were, standing out on sidewalks in front of abortion clinics, offering women in crisis help and free medical care, often through state-run programs. Then every election cycle I saw Republicans encouraging others to vote down the very services that allowed these women to choose life.”
These two sentences are problematic, because they essentially boil down to “Republicans should vote their conscience on the issue of abortion but not on other issues like social programs. If Republicans don’t agree with my particular views on social programs, they are inconsistent.” But again, this is problematic because it essentially says that Republicans (or conservatives) should not be people of conscience in all aspects of their voting. I believe in helping women in crisis pregnancies, but not at the expense of the moral thing to do. I can’t support socialistic government programs because they amount to legalized theft of the citizen by its government.
“It is highly likely that the state of Texas has executed an innocent man while a ‘pro-life’ governor sat in office.”
It is only inconsistent if he knowingly and willfully executed an innocent person. If the person was innocent but found guilty after a fair trial by his peers and sentenced by a judge, then no, it’s not inconsistent at all.
“…an overwhelming majority of those who end up on death row were not able to afford an attorney.”
Why weren’t they provided an attorney? The Sixth Amendment guarantees that anyone who cannot afford an attorney be granted one by the state, to be paid for by the state. If they were not provided an attorney, then a legitimate miscarriage of justice was done.
“So why do so many ‘pro-life’ conservatives still support the death penalty in Texas? I imagine it’s because we feel a safe enough distance from this type of government corruption to not worry about it. We don’t have a rap sheet that could be used to incriminate us if there was an accidental house fire that killed three of our children, landing any one of us on a cold metal table with a lethal injection in the arm.”
I’m in California, not Texas, but my support of capital punishment is because it is Constitutional, because it is morally right, and because it upholds the human dignity of the victims of murder. While important discussions to have, the reasons you raise here are irrelevant to the rightness or wrongness of capital punishment. It’s like arguing that abortion should be legal because some women can’t afford to raise a child. Poverty is an important discussion, but irrelevant to the question of whether or not abortion should be legal.
“Our privilege pushes our sentences down to just six months, so as not to deter your bright futures.”
This is true in some cases, and it’s a travesty. The solution, though, is not to end capital punishment, it’s to hold white people accountable for their crimes and not let them off easy on account of a “bright future.” If the “bright future” was that important to the person, they would not have committed a crime.
I support capital punishment, and I can understand why many pro-life people oppose it. But if anyone wants to convince me to abandon my support for it, they need to show that they understand why I support it and address my actual arguments.
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