Chris Rock has a great bit about people who are proud of things they are supposed to do. “I take care of my kids,” he says, mimicking a proud mother. “You’re supposed to take of your kids, dammit!” he screams back in mock disbelief.
The U.S. Supreme Court today did the same thing as that proud mother – it ruled that executing people who were under 18 at the time of their crimes is unconstitutional.
Congratulations, Supreme Court, for figuring out that executing minors is a bad idea. Considering that our capital punishment system has more flaws than Simon Cowell has insults, the ruling is but a small step toward common sense.
I speak from experience. I covered capital punishment in Missouri in the ‘80s, including the case of Heath Wilkins, who was 16 when convicted of capital murder. His sentence was commuted – and now, another Missouri capital case (Chris Simmons, convicted at 17 back in 1993) has led to the Supreme Court’s latest decision, which overturns at least 72 Death Row cases.
Wilkins, Simmons and the 72 other minors will remain in jail the rest of their lives. They will never be paroled. They will never grow old outside the confines of an 8 x 10 cell. They will pay for their crimes with their lives, by not having any.
The Supreme Court ruling is supposed to make us more civilized. But what would really make us more civilized is to do what every other civilized nation on Earth has done, which is outlaw capital punishment.
You don’t get moral brownie points for killing some people and not others. If capital punishment is wrong in some cases, then it’s wrong in all cases.
I’m not a bleeding heart or simple-minded idealist. I not only covered the death penalty, I wrote a book on the death penalty and interviewed dozens of Death Row inmates and families of murder victims. I spoke with politicians, judges and attorneys. I know all the arguments on both sides of the issue. And I’m fully aware that most people on Death Row deserve to be behind bars forever. We just don’t need to execute them to make us safe or bring comfort to those most affected.
This isn’t a Constitutional issue for me, nor does it matter that it’s less expensive to abolish capital punishment (it is). The death penalty simply doesn’t work – that should be reason enough.
The Supreme Court did the right thing. Now it needs to go further and end capital punishment in the United States – and when that happens, we can truly be proud.