Human Rights - Facing Death Row

Fifteen SMU students, faculty members and others will travel by bus through the Deep South Aug. 2-10 to visit the people and places involved in operating, reporting on and opposing the death penalty in America. The 10-day experience is designed “to expose people to the physical and emotional aspects affiliated with our country’s use of the death penalty, the majority of which is carried out in the states we’ll visit – Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Texas,” says capital punishment expert/activist Rick Halperin, director of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, the trip’s sponsor.

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Do I Believe in the Death Penalty?

An update from Bettye H., a graduate student:

As a native Texan, I have always known about the prison in Huntsville. We drove past it time and time again on our way from Houston to visit my grandparents in Dallas. I have vivid memories of riding in the back seat of our family Chrysler and staring at the shiny metal fences surrounding the concrete buildings for what seemed like miles – my dad always reminding the family to never stop in Huntsville in case of an escapee. I am not sure when or how, but somewhere along the road my acceptance of the death penalty seeped into my soul as a part of life, and I never questioned it. It was time to question it. I needed to finally be able to answer for myself – do I believe in the death penalty?

The answer was not hard. The answer is so simple that it is embarrassing to admit that I did not see it all along. NO – I do not believe in the death penalty! How could anybody believe in the death penalty? Ignoring the political aspects of the argument – “cruel and unusual punishment”, the systematic corruption of both police departments and our judicial system – the bottomless pockets being filled with favors, the fact that human error is inevitable and innocent people are dying, it is simply wrong at the very core of being human. No one has the right to take a life – no one.

With that being said, however, I still struggle. I have four children – four wonderful young men. There is not a word in the dictionary that describes the depth of my love for these four human beings. I know – from the same place in my soul – that if anyone took them away from me that I could squeeze the syringe, flip the switch, turn on the gas, fire the bullet or drop the floor until their murderer was dead. I would want them to suffer as I would be suffering. I also know that my motherly instincts are normal for most. It is an emotional response and not a literal response.

The worst punishment is life in prison. I saw it for myself. The taking away of your dignity – being strip-searched in front of total strangers, being told to bend over and spread your “butt cheeks” apart, being told to lower your eyes when a female passes by you, being shackled to chairs during meetings, living 22 hours a day in a concrete closet, earning a penny a day, no air conditioning, no heat, no physical contact with your family, no privacy, no nothing. The list goes on and on.

Punish those who do wrong – yes – absolutely. Kill them – no.  The death penalty needs to end. We as Americans are better than the death penalty. We as human beings are better than the death penalty.

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