Death penalty explored
Carnegie Mellon spent “One Week on Death Row” last week as our Amnesty International (AI) chapter hosted three days of events that encouraged the campus community to discuss their opinions on the death penalty.
Amnesty International is an international organization dedicated to undertaking research and action in order to prevent human rights abuses. The organization now has more than 2.2 million members, supporters, and subscribers in over 150 countries and territories, in every region of the world.
Amnesty International on Carnegie Mellon’s campus is specifically focused on abolishing the death penalty and informing the campus community of the complexities and realities of the death penalty in the United States.
“This is our first time hosting this event and we want to provide an unbiased space for people to learn and talk about the death penalty,” the president of Amnesty International, Amy Badiani, a junior global politics and policy management major said. Another member of Amnesty International agreed with Badiani. “We don’t want to enforce views on the campus. These events are to welcome an open conversation,” Aneesh Bhoopathy, a first-year cognitive science major, said.
The first event was a death penalty debate. Participants were given a list of arguments for each side to aid them, but they were also able to make their own claims.
The board members asked numerous questions to the group like, “Does the death penalty constitute cruel and unusual punishment?” and “Is life in prison an alternative to the death penalty?” It started as a structured debate but turned into more of an open forum, allowing participants to ask questions while defending their positions.
The second event was more focused on educating participants on the injustice of the death penalty. Board members explained the historical opposition to the death penalty and stated that Amnesty International refers to the death penalty as the “ultimate denial of human rights.”
After the presentation, guest speaker Martha Conley, Chairperson of the Pittsburgh chapter of Pennsylvanians Against the Death Penalty (PADP), discussed the injustice of the death penalty.
Conley cited many cases in which innocent people were sent to jail or even executed because they were not able to fight the system. “Innocent people don’t take plea bargains, because they can’t imagine they’ll be convicted,” Conley said. “They don’t understand how high the justice system is stacked against them.”
She feels that the number of innocent people who are put on death row is alarming and that there are some consistent factors that cause these people to be sentenced to death, such as police and judicial misconduct. This misconduct includes withholding evidence and threatening or torturing people to get them to confess. The last event was a screening of the documentary Race to Execution, which follows the lives of two death row inmates, Madison Hobley of Chicago, Ill., and Robert Tarver of Russell County, Ala., and discusses how race affects America’s judicial system — specifically that of the death penalty.
According to the film’s website —* www.racetoexecution.com/main.html*, “revealing how race infects our capital punishment system, Race to Execution invites dialogue into the larger community about this systemic crisis within our justice system. Race to Execution reveals that once a victim’s body is discovered, the race of the victim and the accused deeply influence the legal process: from how a crime scene is investigated, to the deployment of police resources, to the interrogation and arrest of major suspects, to how media portrays the crime, and ultimately, jury selection and sentencing.”
In the documentary, family members, reporters, and the inmates share their opinions on how race did or did not influence the cases.
“The movie was really interesting,” Brianna Agyemang, a senior economics major, said. “I never thought about death row from an inmate’s perspective and I never knew how big a part race plays.”
Over three days, Amnesty Interntional brought the death penalty issue to Carnegie Mellon and provided a space for people to reject or solidify their opinions about the death penalty.
Ashish Thakrar, a junior ethics, history, and public policy and music major, said the event was great and that he wished even more people would get involved. “This kind of thing is essential to the CMU community because it is the role of the university to promote and foster these kinds of conversations,” he said.