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Do you think Iowa would be a safer place if the death penalty was reinstated? The death penalty affects more people than you would think, it is not a simple operation nor is it easy on the victim’s family or the to-be-executed’s family. The death penalty may help to ease pain in people’s lives but there are often many perspectives left out of decisions like these, such as children, families, the workers involved, and all who are affected by executing someone. Even such there are plenty of reasons to reinstate the death penalty and plenty of reasons not to, people may feel safer having the assurance that there is a deterrent and they can get justice for crimes, but is it still worth it if they are innocent or they go through pain while being executed?

Iowa first abolished the death penalty in 1872 but after citizens began to take justice into their own hands, it was reinstated in 1878. It was again abolished in 1965 and remains so today. According to Iowans Against the Death Penalty, there have been attempts at reinstatement documented in 1876, 1963, 1975, 1976, 1993, 1994, 1997, and 1998. (Iowans Against the Death Penalty 2008-2021). Among these years of many important executions votes and changes, 1874 was a very important year as Charles Howard was lynched by a mob in Des Moines after his sentence and conviction in 1214 for first-degree murder. “In sentencing, Howard, a passionate Judge Hugh Maxwell had expressed regret that the death penalty had been abolished and had virtually recommended lynching, calling Howard “a fiend” and lynch mobs “our best citizens” (Acton, p. 141; ISR 12151874). Later that night at the jail Howard was lynched by a mob of over 100 masked men, and as terrible as this event was there were two more lynchings like this in 1875 and 1877. These lynchings were widely blamed on the inability to have legal executions. As much as society has progressed from a time like this and seemingly there are no public mass mob lynchings of people who are seen as needing to be executed this still shows a perspective. Whether or not it is a belief that is held by many the viewpoint that without the legalization of the death penalty, these people are simply getting off easy and need to be executed is sure to be had by some and this reinforces a possible necessity for Iowa to reinstate a form of the death penalty, be it more modernized executions such as lethal injection compared to hanging.

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While all eyes are on the person being executed and the victim or victims’ kids are often overlooked, whether that be of the person being executed or the kids of families being executed. Now on one hand this may be for the best for the kids whose parents may be getting executed so they are not prosecuted by their peers and seen differently because of their family’s mistakes which would be unfair to them. But at the same time, they are still losing a parent or family member, and a lot of times that is simply overlooked, and when the kids are brought into the news they are seen with a sense of fear that they may follow the same path. Now should a child follow the path of malice they may too end up facing the death penalty. According to ACLU “Since 1973, the death penalty has been imposed on 228 children under 18 in the United States. Of these, 21 have been executed and 80 remain on death row” (ACLU). Now the question is not only is this constitutional but is it constitutional to execute someone who is simply 16 or 17 years old. Relying on the 2005 Roper V. Simmons case and the Atkins v. Virginia opinion in 2002 which dealt with mentally handicapped death row people, the court believes that it is unconstitutional to execute juvenile offenders, though the Atkins opinion executions of mentally handicapped people were struck down in Missouri and widespread public opinion agrees, but yet no changes to juvenile executions despite the court stating it is unconstitutional. “The court noted that 30 states, along with the federal government and the District of Columbia, already barred execution of mentally retarded offenders. The court also considered the fact that public opinion – both here and abroad — was firmly against executing mentally retarded offenders as demonstrated by public opinion polls, the positions of dozens of professional organizations, religious institutions, and the laws of other countries” (ACLU). It is surprising to hear that in most states being under the age of 18 has so many restrictions, not being able to vote, drink, smoke, leave home, serve in the military, etc, but yet they can face the death penalty, this is seemingly just unjustified. The reasoning behind these prohibitions being put on people under the age of 18 is that minors are seen as developing and not having the full capability to make mature decisions, but again despite this being the widespread understanding they can still face the harshest punishment offered in the United States. To focus on one of the main reasons for the death penalty, retribution, and deterrence, it was ruled these made no sense in the executions of mentally handicapped individuals, as in the study their limitations leave them less likely to act with premeditation in their crimes and this means they would be affected very minimally by the deterrence of the death penalty. Also if they are in a lesser mental capacity this would make them less culpable compared to someone who does not have a mental handicap from a retribution standpoint. This does not simply let them skip out on punishment or get them out of their crimes, as they do still face the same punishments from jail time to life without parole, it is just simply unconstitutional to put them up to the death penalty. The reasoning behind putting juveniles and mentally handicapped people together is in the eyes of a court they are both seen as not being in a mind state to make the correct decisions and in turn do not deserve the full punishment to be offered. Just as it is ruled for mentally handicapped people, juveniles are also less likely to be deterred by the death penalty as they are not yet capable of making fully responsible choices and may not fully understand the concept of the death penalty, but just as mentally handicapped offenders they can be tried as adults in court and be sentenced to the same prison sentences as anyone else. The executions of juveniles and mentally handicapped people have become unusual in recent years as since 1989 only 5 mentally handicapped people have been executed and only seven states Missouri, Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Louisiana have executed a juvenile offender since 1989. Since 2000 the United States now remains the only country to have not renounced the practice of juvenile executions.

The world we live in now is quite different from the time of public beheadings and witch burnings. Not that those practices have been carried over into society now or even that they are popular beliefs in our culture now, but as a society we are very centered around the so-called “pop culture” and the internet that has come to be a staple in life. If something does not necessarily fit into what is normal or is not easily loved in pop culture it simply is rejected and forgotten about. Pop culture is truly fueled by how well something is marketed, if your toy is branded well on tik tok then you will sell a lot, if you have a cool Nerf gun on TV kids will want it, if the death penalty is broadcasted on tv people will love it, wait maybe not that one. See the death penalty is not exactly a very flashy and easy to talk about topic it is very controversial among people in Iowa and the US. So along with the hard facts of why it should or should not be reinstated in Iowa or anywhere else a very important point left out is how it will be marketed and talked about. It’s not something to be marketed and toys made or talked about in TV shows, the death penalty is its being that does not have a place in today’s pop culture. Because of this no matter which side of belief you are on for the death penalty, it would become very apparent very quickly who is in support of it simply by putting it in the media, not hidden behind closed doors and only talked about on pen and paper. But despite how people feel on the topic the death penalty would most likely not succeed in being reinstated simply based on pop culture, just as it was said previously, “If something does not necessarily fit into what is normal or is not easily loved in pop culture it simply is rejected and forgotten about.”, and this statement holds. Everyone knows what the death penalty is and has their opinions on whether it is good or bad or necessary or not, but when was the last time you heard someone talk about it instead of some new TikTok or skin care product they saw? The world simply moves too fast for serious conversations to be had anymore.

A large reason the death penalty has remained a thought in people’s minds as well as having the popularity it does is because of deterrence, in the hope that having the death penalty in place will deter other people from committing similar crimes. Though the evidence is inconclusive on whether or not the death penalty and executions do work towards bringing down extreme crimes it is seen this way. It is used as a way to justify death, that by killing the few to save the many they can execute a few very bad people to deter the rest and in turn save the lives of many more people. The death penalty is a way for families or certain people to get a little closure in their lives. In very serious cases where the person is executed the family or people close to the victim may feel a sense of closure or comfort in the fact that this person can no longer repeat history, or that their fate was justified for their crime. By the time you learn to drive, go through high school, and start making decisions for your future, you have gained enough skills through life to make good decisions in most capacities. Along with k-12 drugs, assault, murder, and sexual assault are being taught about and that it is wrong and the punishments to accompany them. So to say at the age of 16 or 17 after going through all of this an individual is still in a capacity to not make any decisions in a full capacity simply cannot be accurate, individuals at this age should be able to face the same penalties as those that are simply a year or two older than them. By this time in their life, they have been given the tools and decision-making skills they need, though maybe not 100% mentally developed they understand the actions as they do them along with the consequences that follow them.

As stated previously, in the face of using the death penalty as a deterrent it raises the question of is the idea of killing the few to save the many is the right way to look at it. By having this viewpoint it simply devalues the lives of people imprisoned, condemning them and only viewing them as a means to save other people’s lives. People who support this claim of killing the few for the many rationalize it by saying that because they are guilty they are deserving and this is their fate. Even taking this viewpoint there is still room for error in the system, where since the 21st century there has been an “innocent revolution” where many people have walked off death row and been exonerated. And though it may seem like a farfetched occurrence, “The Equal Justice Initiative for every 9 people executed, one person on death row is exonerated” (Delaney Logan, 2021). This practice simply has too high a rate of error for it to be deemed fair, the possibility for it to result in the execution of an innocent individual is simply too high and immoral. It also remains immoral to execute someone simply to give a feeling of closure or happiness to a family or individual, someone’s life should not be seen simply as a means to an end or their life executions do work towards bringing down the extreme crimes it is seen this way. It is used as a way to justify death, that by killing the few to save the many they can execute a few very bad people to deter the rest and in turn save the lives of many more people. The death penalty is a way for families or certain people to get a little closure in their lives. In very serious cases where the person is executed the family or people close to the victim may feel a sense of closure or comfort in the fact that this person can no longer repeat history, or that their fate was justified for their crime. A life is more precious than that whether they are good or bad, and a lot of times that is overlooked. If the government has decided based on scientific facts and cognitive tests on minors that things like voting and drinking should not be legal until you are more developed in your early 20s as you cannot make the best decisions as your brain is directly used for making decisions is not yet fully developed, can they be judged the same as an adult for the same crimes. Though the individual whether they are a minor or mentally handicapped may understand what they did and their crime, they simply do not have the mental capacity or are not yet developed enough to make the decisions with a full conscious and cannot be judged the same, this simply makes it unconstitutional not only to execute someone due to all the inconsistencies but especially not someone of a lesser mental capacity.

It is hard to say whether reinstating the death penalty in Iowa would make it a safer place, it may give a sense of safety as a deterrent and retribution, but it is hard to feel safe if you can be wrongfully convicted. The era of public executions has ended but the society we live in surprisingly still promotes the executions of minors despite our pop culture-oriented society where everything lives and dies by the click of a finger. The death penalty is simply a wild beast that can allow people’s pain to be eased but can just as easily be a bucking animal simply only creating more pain and suffering for others. The question is would these hills of corn and beans be safer with that bucking animal or left worse than they started?

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