The death penalty’s only purpose is cruelty for the sake of cruelty. That's not stopping the South Carolina General Assembly, however.
Currently, the South Carolina Department of Corrections is unable to execute any of its inmates because of a lack of lethal injection drugs. State law makes a lethal injection the default method of execution in South Carolina, but there hasn’t been one since 2011.
However, the state legislature is doing its best to put the executioner’s hood back on. Senate Bill 200, filed by Republican Senator Greg Hembree, would force death row inmates to chose between the electric chair and a firing squad. The bill passed the state Senate earlier this month with bipartisan support and is currently in the House Judiciary Committee, only a few steps away from being law.
Beyond the obvious absurdity of death by firing squad in 2021, S.B. 200 shows how horrible the idea of a death penalty is.
During debate over the bill, Hembree said that “Families are waiting, victims are waiting, the state is waiting.” It seems Hembree believes that killing the alleged perpetrators of certain crimes would bring closure or peace of mind.
Gov. Henry McMaster has a similar attitude; he asked the General Assembly to “Give these grieving families and loved ones the justice and closure they are owed by law” by reinstating the death penalty.
This justification for the death penalty is simply inhumane. The idea that a desire for closure or peace of mind is more important than somebody’s life is a twisted idea which depends on the dehumanization of convicted South Carolinians.
There is no way to know if an inmate sentenced to death is truly guilty or not, and South Carolina has a history of executing innocent people. The death penalty also disproportionately kills Black South Carolinians, which is reason enough to abolish it.
But even if those things weren’t true; even if we knew for certain that everyone on death row was a murderer (and it’s worth emphasizing that we absolutely don’t), the death penalty would still be indefensible.
Perhaps the death penalty does bring closure and peace of mind. However, in order to believe that those feelings are suitable reasons for killing, one must believe that they’re more important than a human life.
That belief can only be based on one of two things for it to make sense: A belief that committing certain crimes makes someone’s life unimportant, or a complete disregard for other human lives in general.
Simply believing either of those things would be cruel, but using them as a justification for state-sanctioned killing is an entirely different level of cruel.
The death penalty does not provide justice. Nobody’s life is restored because somebody else’s life was ended. All the death penalty does is weigh certain people’s emotions over other people’s lives and give validity to the cruelest expression of state power there is.
A murder victim’s loved ones absolutely deserve empathy, closure and peace of mind, and society should aim to provide it to them. They are entitled to feel however they feel about their loved one’s killer, but that is not justification for the state to kill.
By framing the debate over the death penalty around these understandable emotions, politicians who want to put people in front of a firing squad are trying to portray themselves as the empathetic ones. Don’t fall for it.