Why does the U.S. still believe in ‘an eye for an eye?’

by J.P. Dean

“An eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth” seems to be the dominant ideology in the justice system of 38 states in the union where the death penalty is still legal.

“Let the punishment fit the crime,” is the sentiment of 64% of Americans polled last year by Gallup who approve of capital punishment in the case of murder. It would seem that a steep majority of people think that the threat of execution is the means of preventing people from murdering each other, but in all these years this tactic to protect the public does not seem to work; people still kill other people in each one of those 38 states.

As with a large number of things in the United States the death penalty is perceived as being somehow inevitable or even natural; that’s just the way it’s done, always has, always will . . . for a nation founded on progressive ideals about human rights, it frequently finds itself slow to accept the possibility of doing things another way. Of all the economically developed nations on the planet, Japan is the only other country where the death penalty is still used.

The countries of Europe, Canada, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and others do not use execution as means of legal punishment against its citizens, but here a “majority” of people think that it is acceptable for a nation to terminate its own people under certain circumstances. It baffles me.

A couple of months ago, after living in sin with the United States for last 16 years, I finally went ahead said my marriage vows to the country and became a citizen. Prior to being a permanent resident (aka legal alien) I lived and grew up in Britain where the last execution was in 1964 and where guns are near nonexistent outside of the military (another concept that blows some people’s minds in this country).

As a young lad in England, the idea of my country killing me was as foreign and crazy a concept as most folks in this country would feel about the idea of public stoning for adulterers or cutting the hand off a thief. Admittedly, the absence of the death penalty in Britain has not eradicated murder there, but nor has it resulted in an outbreak of mayhem these last 47 years; actually the murder rate in Britain is considerably lower than the United States.

But perhaps my bias against the state committing murder against a murderer is merely a result of this Anglo-centric upbringing.

Even though it got a shaky start and has an ugly history, the United States was founded on progressive ideals about liberty and social justice, but the development of the country did not end with the drafting of the Constitution. America needs its liberals to continue the work. Freedom and justice do not have to be maintained through the threat of death.

There is more power in forgiveness and redemption, but it’s not easy.

But those are just my thoughts, so let’s end with another saying, “An eye for eye leaves the world blinded.”