Opinion: Leave the death penalty in the past

Emergency officials walk near evidence markers on the west side bike path in lower Manhattan, New York, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. Investigators worked through the night to determine what led a truck driver to plow down people Tuesday on the riverfront bike path near the World Trade Center, authorities said. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Emergency officials walk near evidence markers on the west side bike path in lower Manhattan, New York, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. Investigators worked through the night to determine what led a truck driver to plow down people Tuesday on the riverfront bike path near the World Trade Center, authorities said. (Seth Wenig/AP)

A rare occurrence indeed, the recent terrorist attack in New York City has resulted in a live assailant. Despite killing eight people, the attacker is alive, still espousing his radical causes. The man’s act and following lack of remorse has sparked many - including the President - to demand his execution. I do see the reason behind this: If there were ever a case where capital punishment was justified, it would be this. Regardless, the prospect itself still does not sit easily with me, for more than just an aversion to death.

Often, the main argument against the death penalty is the inability to make it absolutely infallible. If even one innocent person is put to death as a result of the justice system, that is inexcusable. While this is true in my eyes, and while people guilty of no crime have indeed been put to death, that is not the case in this circumstance. Even before finalizations of any legal procedures, the terrorist behind this act is most certainly the suspect charged.

Apart from the imperfect system of guilt, capital punishment also denies any chance at redemption by the perpetrator. An outlook often shared by religious groups, the belief stands that letting the wrongdoer live allows them to look within and without, perhaps coming to terms with things and seeking repentance. Again, though, in this situation, the argument falls apart a bit. As said before, the culprit stands by his actions, proclaiming the tenets of ISIS. While this could change with time, there is reason to believe his judgment has been permanently muddied.

Even beyond these two sensible arguments, there is the oft-touted statistic about how putting someone to death is more expensive than life in prison. While this is certainly true according to some groups, it also may not be exactly applicable here. Most sources on this topic are heavily biased one way or another, and, even if it is true, I could imagine a world in which the attacker’s passion and political climate result in an expedited execution, regardless of the justice of such a situation.

Well, that seems to be the big three in terms of why not to put someone to death and it seems the New York terrorist managed to act in a way that refutes all of them. I brought up these arguments not to condone the bloodlust for him, though, these just serve as a preliminary display of the absurdity of capital punishment in the general case.

As for this person, I encourage the President and the public to not lose sight of their humanity. Murder is illegal because no one person or entity should be able to decide what is truly, physically irreprehensible; the judgment of an individual is too biased and emotion-fueled to be regarded as righteous. The government should be held to the same standards. While legal judgment strives to impartiality, each component of the system is operated by humans. The judge draws on not only prior documentation but their own experience. A jury is easily swayed by gaps in perception. The lawyers on each side of a case may be harshly imbalanced. Even the common law and standards the entirety draws upon are based on the biases of society and culture at the time. Justice is supposed to be constant, regardless of era or location. While these slight imperfections are permissible (if still unfair) for lesser punishments, the finality of the death penalty is too much for any debate.

Keep in mind that this is not the defense of a terrorist. While I wish for the attacker to find inner peace for his own sake, I have no issue with keeping him away from the public for the rest of his life. Let his name be lost to the sands of time as it has to this article. This is a defense of the justice system from itself. Passion and avenging may be attractive traits for a fictional vigilante, but the real world needs to be more level-headed than that. Capital punishment should go the way of its Hammurabian ancestors, a relic of a more primitive time.


Peter Fenteany is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at peter.fenteany@uconn.edu.