We have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This harmless statement about fundamental freedoms has become controversial, especially in the case of “right to life.” Many people associate this phrase with the abortion debate. However, there’s another aspect to consider: capital punishment.

Although this issue is often pushed out of the spotlight, the death penalty is still relevant when taking into account its discriminatory implications. When considering the prejudiced cultural norms surrounding the death penalty, we should work to abolish capital punishment on the basis of its immorality and injustice.

First we must look at the root of the problem. Cultural standards concerning ethnic minorities are produced and disseminated through the media. Kelly Welch, an associate professor of criminal justice at Villanova University, reports that black people are shown in television newscasts as criminals 2.4 times more often than whites. The prevalence of black criminals in media cements the idea that minorities are more violent and therefore more capable of committing crimes that warrant the death penalty.

Minority stereotypes in media are transferred into the legal system and affect the outcome of death penalty cases. There is a large disparity between ethnic minorities and white citizens who are subjected to the death penalty. Though African Americans represent 13 percent of the United States population, they make up an astounding 50 percent of the death row population.

Furthermore, the “eye-for-an-eye” justice of capital punishment is outdated and hypocritical. Why kill people who kill people to prove that killing is wrong? While some say that anti-death penalty arguments that focus on morality are inadequate, Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted that “an unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” In other words, morality and justice go hand in hand, so an immoral law, such as the death penalty, is unjust.

Even if one does not agree that the death penalty is immoral, one cannot ignore the facts. While people claim DNA tests can eliminate all uncertainty of a person’s innocence, more than 130 people have been released from death row due to wrongful convictions since 1973.

Another factor to consider is the financial aspect. California taxpayers pay $90,000 more per death row inmate than those in regular confinement, on account of the high cost of legal representation and appeals to the court.

Though the death penalty is not practiced in the state of Michigan, we shouldn’t be satisfied until the remaining 33 states abolish the use of the death penalty. The injustice of the death penalty is not found in the laws, but in the culture. Positive cultural change is needed in order to achieve equality and justice.

There is no simple solution to accomplish this goal. The quest for equality is hundreds of years in the making. However, decreasing the disproportionate number of newscasts about violence done by minorities is a step in the right direction. The publicity of minority criminals should reflect the real life percentage. This will create a population that is more accurately informed and less prone to untrue stereotypes based on overblown numbers.

But first, we must acknowledge that this injustice exists. The overwhelming presence of minorities on death row must be questioned rather than accepted as common sense. Racial disparities prevent capital punishment from attaining so-called justice. Ridding ourselves of this practice will truly grant everyone a right to life and liberty and, most importantly, achieve justice for all.

Haleigh Guerin is an LSA freshman.

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