On June 24th the Oregon Supreme Court overturned a death penalty for the 4th consecutive time for alleged murderer Randy Lee Guzek.
Since 1973, 130 people have been released from death row due to wrongful convictions yet 37 states continue to support and endorse the death penalty.
Ray Krone was on death row after spending 10 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA evidence exonerated him.
In 2000, an Illinois inmate was released from death row due to wrongful conviction – in that same time period twelve others had been executed.
The racial bias in the judicial system is ever-pervasive – 79% of cases involving a Caucasian victim are sentenced to death whereas only 5% of cases involving a Hispanic victim receive the same sentence.
Despite all the stark evidence opposing the death penalty it continues to be a widespread and predominant form of punishment.
When I asked the Tibetan students what they thought about the death penalty their answers, like all previous ones, were once again guided by the Buddhist principles of compassion and empathy. They felt that people, regardless of their crime, deserve the opportunity for rehabilitation. Even when I asked if they felt that death should be applied for a utilitarian purpose, to benefit a greater amount of people, they emphatically stated that all life is precious.
While the students agreed that measures should be taken to protect others and ensure a harmonious society, the death penalty in no way assures the prevention of such transgressions. The students were also ardent to point out that killing any sentient being violates Buddhist ethics (just ask the horrified monk after I killed a mosquito). Practicing Buddhists thoroughly believe that all beings deserve compassion and forgiveness and that the death penalty defies basic human rights.
The students also emphasized the importance of tolerance, going so far as to say that even if someone murdered their parent they must tolerate them and learn to respect their rights to life. Furthermore, many students elaborated on the idea that criminals are shaped by ideological power and thus deserve the chance to be “counseled and rehabilitated back to society” (Pema Youden, 2010. Tibet Hope Center). Even some wished for the perpetrators to have a good, new life.
Buddhist philosophy pervades the ethical consciousness of Dharamsala as demonstrated by the students’ conceptions. The death penalty as we have seen is not a practice that is lauded. It is because as the Dalai Lama once said, “Violence will only increase the cycle of violence.”
Maria Arseniuk & Dennis Stromback