Robert C. Wadman: Countries with the death penalty are not those we’d want to live in

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill held a press conference to voice their support for abolishing the death penalty in Utah, Sept. 14, 2021.

If you had no choice and were forced to leave America, where would you want to live? If you couldn’t live in the United States, out of all the countries in the world, which one would you chose?

These questions are proposed for a purpose. I’ve asked these questions to over a thousand people, and the answers are consistently the English-speaking countries like Great Britain, Australia and Canada. It is natural to select places we feel comfortable.

As Eugene Ionesco said, “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” The countries selected don’t have the death penalty. All of the other English-speaking countries don’t have the death penalty. As a matter of fact, all of the countries in the European Union don’t have a death penalty. America is bordered by countries that don’t use the death penalty. In both Canada and Mexico there are no death penalty executions.

We, in Utah, are with Iran, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, South Sudan, Saudi Arabia, China, Egypt and Iraq when it comes to the right to life. On the top 10 list of countries that execute their citizens, America is number five. Although, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen execute their people, they don’t do it as often as we do. Only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt execute more of their people than we do.

Outside of America, are there any of these countries on this list where you would choose to live? I would suggest, you hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

The 2022 session of the Utah Legislature will consider a bill to end capital punishment in the state. Top prosecutors in Salt Lake, Utah, Grand and Summit counties, and the Utah County Commission, have come out in support of that measure.

It has been said, “Fear is a treasure trove of self-awareness if we take the time to reason through what we are afraid of.” Fear is a powerful tool in the hands of a charismatic politician.

In America, we have fearful labels for some people. Criminals, rapist, murderers, drug dealers, are words we use to dehumanize people. Does swift and sure punishment of criminals lessen our fear? Does executing murderers, rapist and criminals lessens our collective fear and give us clear rush of pure justice? Black men in America account for only 4.5% of the U.S. population, yet account for 46% of the people on America’s death rows. If you die with a question in your heart about killing others, what is your excuse?

As Tennessee Williams said, “Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of the question.” Does the death penalty make America a safer place, or do we value retribution and vengeance?

Robert C. Wadman

Robert C. Wadman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus, Criminal Justice Department, Weber State University.