In April 2014, in its pursuit of justice, the State of Oklahoma tortured Clayton Lockett to death. The State’s ham-fisted efforts to kill Lockett culminated in a gruesome and bloody ordeal which lasted more than an hour and only ended when Lockett suffered a fatal heart attack.
Lockett’s is among a series of botched executions over the last few years which illustrate a principle that should be obvious: We, as a society, are not capable of carrying out the death penalty in a manner consistent with our Constitution. From botched executions to killing innocents, we make mistakes all the time. As President Donald Trump calls for us to kill the alleged terrorist behind the latest attack in New York, our mistakes should remind us of our humanity. The problem isn’t necessarily that we have a flawed system — although we do — it’s that we’re humans. As humans, we’ll never have the moral authority to overcome the principle that killing people is wrong and two wrongs don’t make a right.
Encouragingly, a recent Gallup Poll revealed American support for the death penalty has fallen to its lowest point since 1972. Roughly 55 percent of Americans, however, still favor the death penalty for murderers.
Clayton Lockett raped a 19 year-old girl named Stephanie Neiman and proceeded to bury her alive in 1999. His guilt was never in question. There were eyewitnesses and he confessed to the crime.
But, we are a nation of laws, and even a casual look at the Eighth Amendment makes it clear that we failed to protect Lockett from cruel and unusual punishment. While it’s easy to point to the horrible nature of Lockett’s crime, I think he’s a good case to test our principles. How committed are we to the words in our Constitution? Are we willing to ensure that even someone like Clayton Lockett retains his rights? Obviously not.
In our desire for vengeance, we apply the death penalty unfairly and inconsistently. We try to kill the wrong people, and we sometimes end up torturing people. Our very human desire for vengeance leads us astray. Even when we come together we are not all-knowing or all-powerful. We shouldn’t have the power to take the lives of other people, even when we come together as a society.
Our inability to kill people within the manner we’ve deemed acceptable makes it clear that we’re not justified to kill people at all. Every failure is a reminder that we’re human. We shouldn’t be asking ourselves how we can make the death penalty more humane, but why we feel empowered to kill anyone in the first place.
Will Maher ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in history and international studies.