I am currently in the midst of preparations for a presentation which I will be making this evening at a local church. Besides the Biblical and theological information that I will explore, I am also reviewing lots of data, particularly numbers, concerning the death penalty. Numbers are not my thing, so I have to be sure I am sharp and ready to field questions! And as always, as I look at the numbers, I feel like I am being slapped in the face by the sheer force of them.
I always approach these presentations with a sense of expectancy, believing that both God and the numbers are with me. As the crowd gathers this evening for their Wednesday night supper of fried chicken and casseroles, I expect many will have never heard such numbers before, and jaws will drop when they are revealed. Not so long ago, a congressman whose name I can remember, was quoted as saying to a colleague speaking about the war in Iraq, “You are entitled to your own opinions, my friend, but not your own facts.”
Same goes for the death penalty. When people begin to hear the numbers, you can visibly see the discomfort:
- 123 people exonerated since 1973
- for every 9 executions, 1 exoneration
- 102 people on Tennessee’s death row none of whom could afford their own attorney at the time of their original trial
- Approximately $2-7 million dollars per execution versus $700,000 for life in prison
- 3 times more likely to be executed if the victim is white
- 1 out of 10 executions is of a diagnosed mentally ill person (nevermind how many are undiagnosed)
The numbers are frightening. But, there they are. I will always share with people the reasons why the death penalty is wrong–Biblically and morally–because as a person of faith, I must. But, even considering my usual dislike of numbers, I must admit, that the numbers do starkly reveal the failure of the death penalty as a policy, so I will keep working on my numbers.
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