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Capital Punishment and The Bigger Picture of Abolition

Too often in America, people are sentenced to death by the state as punishment for the conviction of a crime. Although president-elect Joe Biden plans on abolishing the death penalty during his presidency, the Trump administration has decided to execute five condemned federal prisoners during the current presidential transition. The most recent execution of Brandon Bernard has reintroduced the following question: why does the United States still uphold this cruel, and inhuman form of punishment for anybody, regardless of the crime they committed? This has resulted in many calling for the abolition of capital punishment, although the abolition of prisons or police is not as often discussed. Taking this one step further, one might ponder: why do so many of us see prison as a more positive and humane alternative to being sentenced to death? The realities of our prison and criminal justice system are beyond sickening, but they’re doing exactly what they were built to do — disproportionately attack black and brown populations, generating profit in the process. When examining capital punishment, it’s necessary to consider both the issues that are embedded at the root of the United States prison system and the fact that these aren’t things that are able to be reformed. After hundreds of years of the prison industrial complex oppressing and preying on Black and Brown citizens, it’s incumbent to call for not only the abolition of the United States death penalty, but for the abolition of the police and prisons as well. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a nonprofit organization that engages heavily in addressing civil rights issues, actively opposes the practice of the death penalty and encapsulates the majority of the issues people find with it. The existence of the death penalty calls into consideration some heavy concerns from the organization, such as the issues that follow: Capital punishment is cruel and unusual, denies due process of law, disproportionaly targets people of color and poor citizens, is not a viable form of crime control, and much more. The ACLU strongly argues that the United States should not utilize the murder of its citizens as a form of punishment for any crime; this is a perspective many agree on, seeing as the existence of the death penalty is a widely debated ethical issue. 

Many are able to see what’s wrong with our country’s implementation of the death penalty. Yet what’s being done about it? Even if this form of punishment were to be abolished, its existence is intertwined with the United States’ oppressive prison system and police forces. The basis of their existence is rooted in white supremacy, as these systems were created solely to uphold an oppressive regime. These prejudiced concepts, which drove the creation of prisons and police in the first place, are things that cannot be removed or changed through government reform. The website 8 To Abolition offers an eight-point model which highlights the need to transition into a world without the existence of police, or the prison+military industrial complex. On their homepage, they state, “We recognize that the system of policing is intertwined with the prison and military industrial complex, both here and abroad. In abolishing policing, we seek to abolish imperialist forms of police, such as militaries responsible for generations of violence against Black and brown people worldwide. We believe in a world where there are zero police murders because there are zero police. Abolition can’t wait.”

Considering the roots of such baneful systems and altering focus from how we can improve them to how we can start over is imperative to this idea of abolition. For example, there is no desire for police officers to be nicer, get better educations, or work more in certain communities, they will remain oppressive until they are gone. It is essential to reflect on our compulsory views of punishment and justice and why many of us see prison as a proper form of punishment for those who have committed crimes, and we must research and see what life could be like with support and care coming from our own communities. The aforementioned eight steps from 8 To Abolition are as follows: defunding the police, demilitarizing communities, removing police from schools, freeing people from jails and prisons, repealing laws that criminalize survival, investing in community self-governance, providing safe housing for everyone, and investing in care, not cops. While each of these are shorter points which capture a bigger idea, they each still exemplify the transition that is so direly needed in order to restore support within communities and bring an end to these tyrannical forces. 


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