Not enough attention paid to death penalty: National election overshadowed local issue

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Photo Courtesy of theatlantic.com
Photo Courtesy of theatlantic.com

Katherine Hartner
CONTRIBUTOR

If the presidential election had not been so dramatic, the death penalty controversy would certainly have been a major point of contention for voters in Nebraska this November. As it was, the elections pulled attention away from the death penalty.

The death penalty is an issue with wide-reaching connotations; the answer is not as simple as “yes” or “no.” The question of the death penalty is actually a broad sweep of questions masquerading as a single question. For instance, is the death penalty relevant any more, since no one has been actually executed in Nebraska for nearly 20 years? Is it morally sound, given the possibility of executing an innocent person? Does it work as deterrent? Should this even be an option, given potential for abuse? Should the government have the right to execute a convicted person?

In a letter to the editor printed in the Omaha World-Herald a few weeks ago, the author (a police officer) wrote that he supported the death penalty at one point, but no longer does, citing facts such as the lack of convictions, the possibility of innocent people being convicted and executed and that when people commit crimes they think they won’t be caught, so the death penalty is not a deterrent at all.

For many people, the death penalty controversy takes on religious overtones. The verse Romans 12:19: “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord”—is quoted frequently and used as a supporting argument on both sides. Even within denominations, there is a disparity of belief regarding the death penalty. Popes John Paul II and Francis have both spoken out against the death penalty, but some Christian denominations support it. There seems to be no broad consensus across all faiths.

However, the real problem was not that one side was right and the other was wrong, or even the way religion skewed opinion on the death penalty. The real problem this November was that we weren’t discussing those questions. True, the death penalty was discussed— but it wasn’t discussed enough. The only way to reach a sensible decision is to discuss pros and cons, and the presidential elections seemed to detract from the issue of the death penalty. We were so focused on Clinton versus Trump we ignored important issues right in our own backyard.

One of the saddest things about the internet and even the news media is that widely-covered stories don’t get read as much as equally important but less prestigious ones do. There is a wealth of information at our fingertips, and rather than researching the issues and deciding for ourselves, we fall back on what the majority seems to be thinking—or thinking about.

Perhaps it was predictable for the death penalty to be reinstated in Nebraska, but I would have expected, certainly in Omaha, if not elsewhere in the state, that it would be discussed more.

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