When it comes to the issue of justice, the United States leads the globe in two very specific ways.
First, it imprisons people at an unprecedented rate. With only five percent of the world's total population, the US holds 25 percent of all the world's prisoners. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with an estimated 2.24 million people behind bars.
Second, as Amnesty International highlights, the United States is one of the world's top five executioners, only surpassed by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China.
By maintaining capital punishment, America falls into the company of some of the most notorious violators of human rights across the globe.
With that said, it's notable executions have been on the decline in the US in recent years. According to Amnesty International, the use of the death penalty has been decreasing since 2000, and in 2014 death penalty sentences reached their lowest rate since 1976.
Moreover, a recent survey from Pew Research Center shows Americans are becoming increasingly split on the issue and support is declining. At present, 56 percent of Americans condone capital punishment for individuals convicted of murder. Almost 20 years ago, in 1996, 78 percent of Americans favored the death penalty.
But the decline in both the use and support of the death penalty hasn't been enough to eradicate it altogether in the US, which we were reminded of upon the conclusion of the Boston Marathon bombing trial last week.
On Friday, a federal jury sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in bombing the 2013 Boston Marathon, which left three dead and 260 wounded. It did so in spite of the fact a majority of Bostonians (62 percent) preferred he be sentenced to life in prison.
Following the decision, Attorney General Loretta Lynch stated:
We know all too well that no verdict can heal the souls of those who lost loved ones, nor the minds and bodies of those who suffered life-changing injuries from this cowardly attack. But the ultimate penalty is a fitting punishment for this horrific crime and we hope that the completion of this prosecution will bring some measure of closure to the victims and their families.
It's significant Lynch mentioned the families of the victims, particularly given the family of the youngest victim, 8-year-old Martin Richard, wrote an open letter to the Justice Department in April stating they wanted the government to stop pursuing the death penalty.
The Richards, who also saw their daughter lose her leg in the bombing, contended sentencing Tsarnaev to death keeps him in the public eye and drags this ordeal on for those who have already suffered enough, writing:
We understand all too well the heinousness and brutality of the crimes committed. We were there. We lived it. The defendant murdered our 8-year-old son, maimed our 7-year-old daughter, and stole part of our soul. We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives. ...As long as the defendant is in the spotlight, we have no choice but to live a story told on his terms, not ours.
As those most directly impacted by this heinous and violent crime have made it very clear they oppose the death penalty, the rest of us should join them.
The United States frequently characterizes itself as a global leader, claiming it sets an example for the world in multiple arenas. This is true in many respects, but as one of the leading executioners in the world, the US is setting a questionable precedent in regards to human rights.
The death penalty is inhumane, anachronistic, ineffective in deterring crime and brings no real peace to the families of victims. Responding to violence with more violence doesn't solve anything, it only undermines the integrity and moral standing of this country.
Perpetuating capital punishment diminishes America's global reputation and ability to confront human rights violations in other parts of the world.
The criminal justice system in the United States is also far too flawed for the death penalty to persist. Innocent people have been sentenced to death, executions have been botched and individuals with evident mental disabilities have been executed -- even recently.
The death penalty also disproportionately impacts minorities: Around 42 percent of the national death-row population is black. Much like many other aspects of America's criminal justice system, there is an evident racial bias when it comes to the death penalty.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed a senseless, disgusting crime. He deserves no sympathy whatsoever. But the death penalty is not justice, nor is it impartial.
If Tsarnaev had been sentenced to life in prison, he would have been sent to United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, or ADX, a hellhole reserved for the very worst members of society.
According to NBC News, prisoners spend around 23 hours a day in solitary confinement in this facility. Many consider this a worse punishment than death -- spending the rest of your life cut off from the world, contemplating your crimes in almost complete isolation in a 12-by-7 foot cell.
Sentencing Tsarnaev to death is an emotive and vengeful response to an albeit terrible deed, but it is precisely these sentiments that should make us wary of seeking violent retribution.
Evidence strongly suggests the Tsarnaev brothers were motivated to orchestrate the Boston Marathon bombing by radical Islam. Thus, it's fair to say killing Tsarnaev will turn him into a martyr, and other extremists might one day kill in his name.
Speaking with AP, Nicholas Burns, professor of diplomacy and international relations at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, stated:
Tsarnaev is a criminal and a terrorist responsible for one of the most reprehensible attacks in Boston's history. I do fear that the death penalty could cause some Islamic terrorist groups to paint him as a martyr.
In deciding to kill Tsarnaev, America is prolonging the suffering of victims and their families and potentially elevating Tsarnaev to martyrdom while perpetuating a policy that close to two-thirds of the world's countries (140 in total) have already abolished.
Let's lead the world in pragmatism, justice and human rights, not executions.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Elite Daily.
Citations: Dzokhar Tsarnaev Gets the Death Penalty (The Atlantic), Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Given Death Penalty in Boston Marathon Bombing (The New York Times), Amnesty International USA Responds to Death Penalty in Boston Bombing Case (Amnesty International), Death sentences and executions in 2014 (Amnesty International), The prison crisis (ACLU), World Prison Population List (ICPS), Less Support for Death Penalty Especially Among Democrats (Pew Research Center), US death row study 4 percent of defendants sentenced to die are innocent (The Guardian), Most Boston Residents Prefer Life Term Over Death Penalty in Marathon Case Poll Shows (The New York Times), Death Penalty (Amnesty International), Parents of Youngest Boston Marathon Victim Oppose Death Penalty for Tsarnaev (The New York Times), To end the anguish drop the death penalty (Boston Globe), Will Death Make Tsarnaev a Martyr Experts Say It Depends (AP), Racism and the Execution Chamber (The Atlantic), Boston Bomber Tsarnaev Faces Prison Hell if He Escapes Execution u2028 (NBC News)