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  • Writer's pictureLogan Ginavan

Beyond the Gallows: My thoughts on Capital Punishment

As I lay in bed last night, I began planning this blog post, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what topic I wanted to talk about, so I put on my absolute favorite show, The West Wing. I'm probably on rewatch five or six by this point but it's just so fantastic, I can't stop. As I watched the Season Three episode titled "The Indians in the Lobby," I found myself enthralled by the B Plot of the episode, an argument surrounding the death penalty, and just like that, I had my topic for today. We'll come back to the West Wing in a minute, but I wanted to tell you a little more about the really strange history of capital punishment in Kansas.

In Kansas, the death penalty was first established in the early years of its statehood. From 1853 to 1965, a total of 76 executions were carried out under Kansas' jurisdiction. The majority of these executions were by hanging, except the very first. The state's stance on capital punishment has fluctuated greatly since then. In 1907, Kansas abolished the death penalty, only to reinstate it in 1935. Despite restoration, no executions occurred until 1944.

Now the Supreme Court stopped all executions in 1967 to work out the constitutionality aspects of the punishment. But, following the 1976 United States Supreme Court decision in Gregg v. Georgia, which permitted states to reinstate the death penalty, the Kansas legislature made multiple attempts to do so. Despite the Governor at the time vetoing capital punishment legislation all through his tenure, ultimately, the death penalty was reinstated on April 23, 1994.

Despite the reinstatement, no executions have occurred in Kansas since the law's passage. In 2004, the Kansas Supreme Court deemed the state's death penalty statute unconstitutional. Almost immediately, however, this decision was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kansas v. Marsh only a year later, essentially reinstating the statute.

The debate over capital punishment extends beyond Kansas, raising profound ethical, legal, and societal questions. Opponents argue that the death penalty violates fundamental human rights and is inherently irreversible, risking the execution of innocent individuals. Furthermore, racial and socioeconomic disparities in death penalty sentencing highlight systemic injustices within the criminal justice system. I think the analogy offered in The West Wing is a great example. This is what the Italian ambassador has to say regarding the death penalty and why he believes that America is in the wrong with its stance on the death penalty,

"Josh, you're in a restaurant. And there's a little girl who is really misbehaving. She runs around, she's throwing food. The father decides to punish her right there by cracking the wine bottle over her head, throwing her to the ground, and kicking her repeatedly. You sit at the next table. What do you do? [...] Is there a crime that girl could commit, that would have justified what the father did? [...] And if the father said, 'This is my child, and I will punish her any way I choose,' would you come to the conclusion that this father has lost all perspective, and all judgement, and should be removed from equation?"

I find great inspiration in that show, especially from other characters like Joey Lucas who says simply, "The state shouldn't kill." Why, oh why, are we okay with the government being in the business of murder? It's simply wrong and if I were elected, I would help bring forward legislation to abolish capital punishment in Kansas (again). You may hear proponents of capital punishment cite deterrence and retribution as justifications for its use. The death penalty has been around for centuries, why hasn't all crime stopped? It simply does not work as an effective deterrent. Additionally, concerns about the arbitrariness of sentencing and the cost of capital punishment compared to life imprisonment add to the pile of reasons why capital punishment is clearly a moronic policy to have in place.

In grappling with the issues surrounding capital punishment, we are faced with questions about justice, morality, and the role of government in our society. As we reflect on Kansas' history with the death penalty—from abolition to reinstatement (and back and forth)—we must confront the inherent flaws and ethical dilemmas that accompany state-sanctioned executions. The story of capital punishment in Kansas is not just a legal saga; it's a narrative of human lives, lost opportunities for rehabilitation, and the enduring quest for a fair and humane criminal justice system. As a society, we have a responsibility to critically examine our policies and practices, ensuring that they reflect our values and respect the inherent dignity of every individual. These policies and practices do not reflect my values and so, I will continue to advocate for the abolition of capital punishment in Kansas.

Thank you so much for taking the time to explore this important issue with me. As we navigate the complexities of criminal justice and seek to build a more just society, your engagement and thoughtful consideration are crucial. Together, we can continue to advocate for meaningful reforms and uphold the principles of fairness, compassion, and human dignity. Let's work towards a future where every voice is heard, every life is valued, and justice is truly served. Thank you again for joining me in this important conversation. and I hope you'll come back tomorrow to read more.

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