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AFTERWORD The Empty Echo of the Death Penalty BY HENRY B. GONZALEZ The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights state “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment ” The death penalty is torture and numerous examples exist emphasizing the cruelty of the execution…. The modernization to lethal injection serves only as an attempt to conceal the reality of cruel punishment… 111mental and physical trauma resulting from the imposition and ex ecution of the death penalty, proponents in sist that it fulfills some social need. This simply is not true. Studies fail to establish that the death penalty either has a unique value as a deterrent or is a more effective deterrent than life imprisonment. We assume that perpetrators will give greater consideration to the consequences of their actions if the penalty is death, but the problem is that we are not always dealing with rational actions. Those who commit violent crimes often do so in moments of passion, rage, and fear times when irrationality reigns…. The empty echo of the death penalty asks for simple retribution. Proponents advocate that some crimes simply deserve death. This argument is ludicrous. If a murder deserves death, I ask you why then do we not burn the arsonist or rape the rapist? Our justice system does not provide for such punishments because society comprehends that it must be founded on principles different from those that it condemns. How can we condemn killing while condoning execution? In practice, capital punishment has become, a kind of a grotesque lottery. It is more likely to be carried out in some ‘states than in otherSin recent years, more than half the nation’s_ executions have occurred in two states: Texas and Florida. My home state of Texas led the nation in 1993, with seventeen executions, , more than three times the ‘dumber cif ekecutions. in the state with the second higheSt rate. The death penalty is far more likely to be imposed against blacks than , whitesthe U.S. Supreme Court has assumed the, validity of evidence that in Georgia those who murder whites were eleven times more likely to receive the death sentence than those who kill blacks, and that blacks who kill whites were almost three times as likely to be executed as whites who kill whites. It is most likely to be imposed upon the poor and uneducated-60 percent of death row inmates never finished high school. And even among those who have been sentenced to die, executions appear randomly imposedin the decade since executions resumed in this country, well under 5 percent of the more than 2,700 death row inmates have in fact been put to death. It cannot be disputed that most death row inmates come from poverty and that there is a definite racial and ethnic bias to the imposition of the death penalty. The statistics are clear, as 92 percent of those executed in this country since 1976 killed white victims, although almost half of all homicide victims during that period were black; further, black defendants are many times more likely to receive the death sentence than are white defendants. A 1990 report of the General Accounting Office found that there exists “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty….In 82 percent of the studies, race of victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder Or receiving the death penalty.” Similar statistics can be found in my area of the country with regard to individuals of Mexican-American descent; in fact, similar practices once prevailed with regard to, women [as victims]…. Racial ancLethnic bias is a part of our nation’s history, but so is bias against the poor. Clearly, the ability to secure legal assistance and to. avail oneself of the best that the legal system has to offer is based on one’s financial status. The National Law Journal stated in 1990, “Indigent defendants on trial for their lives are being frequently represented by ill-trained, unprepared, court-appointed lawyers so grossly underpaid they literally cannot afford to do the job they know needs to be done.” The American Bar Association has admitted as much. The legal process has historically been replete with bias, as well. We have a history of exclusion of jurors based on their race; now, the Supreme Court has sanctioned the exclusion of multi-lingual jurors if witnesses’ testimony will be translated this is particularly significant in my area of the country, in San Antonio. Further, we have executed juvenileschildren, actually, as well as those with limited intelligence. Only four countries besides the United States are known to have executed juvenile offenders in the past decade: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran…. The imposition of the death sentence in such an uneven way is a powerful argument against it. The punishment is so random, so disproportionately applied in a few states, that it represents occasional retribution, not swift or sure justice. My colleagues, I implore you to correct this national disgrace. Nearly all other Western democracies have abolished the death penalty without any ill effects; let us not be left behind. Let us release ourselves from the limitations of a barbaric tradition that serves only to undermine the very human rights which we’ seek to uphold. San Antonio Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez has repeatedly introduced resolutions in Congress to limit the death penalty in the United States. These remarks are excerpted from a speech he made upon introducing an anti-death penalty resolution in June of 1995. AUGUST 1,.1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31