Jaryd EskeetsMr. Timothy D. Jensen English 10330 January 2017Executions Should Be Televised Less than one hundred years ago, the last public execution was performed in the United States; however, when we think back on public executions, we tend to think farther back to the days of the witch trials and simpler times.
But executions are still very much a part of our modern society, but we no longer see or hear anything about them in the media. In response to this lack of information, the article, “Executions Should Be Televised,” explores the debate surrounding televising executions, as is evident in the title. Written by Zachary B. Shemtob, an assistant criminal justice professor at Central Connecticut State University and David Lat, a former federal prosecutor, they claim that citizens need to see executions to be more informed on choosing a side of whether capital punishment is constitutional or not. This claim of policy explores the idea that we need greater transparency to be an efficient constitutional democracy.
Since both of these men have a background in the justice system, they are well qualified to discuss this topic and explore the intricacies of the issue surrounding making executions public once again. To support their claim, they propose that televising executions would promote transparency within the government. “A functioning government demands maximum accountability and transparency. As long as executions remain behind closed doors, those are impossible.” The need for participation and understanding of our government is vital to the function of our government and the rapid advances in technologies that foster that transparency leave little excuse against televising executions. Along with transparency, televising executions would prevent against cruel and unusual punishment, a very specific provision in our Constitution.
If we must rely on second hand accounts from the press or other witnesses, we are not allowed the opportunity to confirm the constitutionality ourselves. Two examples the authors give show the disparity in second hand reports, “when…
Georgia inman, Roy Blankenship, was executed in June, the prisoner jerked his head, grimaced, gasped, and lurched, according to the medical expert’s affidavit. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Mr. DeYoung, executed in the same manner, ‘showed no violent signs in death.'” Without a cannon of recorded executions, there is no way for the average person to determine if they personally find capital punishment to be cruel and unusual punishment.
“Voters should not have to rely on media accounts to understand what takes place when a man is put to death.” In addition to these details, the authors note that all other aspects of government are recorded. “Cameras record legislative sessions and presidential debates, and courtrooms are allowing greater television access. When he was an Illinois state senator, President Obama successfully pressed for the videotaping of homicide interrogations and confessions.” To continue on the theme of transparency, if all the elements of a convict’s interrogation and trial are recorded so they can be carefully scrutinized, then why is the same treatment not afforded the fulfilment of their sentence? “The most serious penalty of all surely demands equal if not greater scrutiny.” It is again necessary that all elements of government be open to transparency and accountability so that the Constitution can be upheld to its fullest capacity. While they list a great deal of evidence to support themselves, their underlying reasoning can be summarized in their statement: “our focus is on accountability and openness.” Behind all their reasoning, their reasoning behind needing to have publicized executions stems from a need for greater transparency in governmental proceedings.
Connecting back to their argument that other elements of the justice system are televised or otherwise broadcast, they warrant that all elements of governmental proceedings need to be publicly accessible. While there are some elements of government that are highly sensitive and may not be immediately available for public consumption, executions are not one of these. If all other elements of the trial were televised, why is the execution the exception. In order to ensure that citizens are able to be well informed, they need access to primary sources on all aspects of our government. Simply having a second hand account does not provide fact or the full context. “The people should have the right to see what is being done in their name and with their tax dollars” and they have the right to see it first hand.
While the authors have a great many arguments in favor of their argument, they do not neglect to address their counter arguments as well. One of the major concerns that those who oppose televising executions claim is safety concerns. “While rioting and pickpocketing occasionally marred executions in the public square in the 18th and 19th centuries, modern security and technology obviate the concern.” Since the argument is in favor of televising or otherwise broadcasting the proceedings themselves, not making them a public spectacle, the levels of security would remain in tact, without the need to provide additional security measures. As for the privacy of those involved, “the faces of witnesses and executioners could be edited out, for privacy reasons, before a video was released.” This would protect the individual identities of the others involved so they could not be victims of retaliation crimes. Another counterargument they address is the possibility that widespread access to such content could lead to a numbing effect on society. “Douglas A.
Berman, a law professor, fears that people might come to equate human executions with putting pets to sleep.” The authors acknowledge that this could result over time; however, they also state that “the initial broadcasts would undoubtedly get attention and stir debate.” Continuing on to their next counterargument, they address the concern that televising executions would unfairly show the convict as a sympathetic or pitiable figure in the context. While they do not directly rebuff this concern, they state that it is “beside the point: the defendant is being executed precisely because a jury found that his crimes were so heinous that he deserved to die.” While this does not refute the claim, it does show that the authors are not concerned about public sentimentality, but instead about the need for transparency and accountability in all elements of the justice system.
Finally, the major argument they claim to face is “unthinking disgust – a sense that public executions are archaic, noxious, even barbarous.” They go on to quote several activists and scholars who claim that public executions turn individuals off of capital punishment, which could make the masses call for its end in this country. However, they qualify themselves by stating, “this is not our view. We leave open the possibility that making executions public could strengthen support for them; undecided viewers might find them less disturbing than anticipated.
” I believe their argument is effective. They are not debating the ethics of capital punishment, which is a much broader and heated argument; instead they are addressing the concerns of transparency in connection to capital punishment. They are not trying to force an ideal on their audience, but instead ask the question of whether or not we have all of the information necessary to individually make a decision in regards to this hot button issue. They also provide sufficient evidence to support their claims, focusing on other aspects of modern day governmental procedures already in place. This grounds the argument, in my opinion, because it applies the logic of why are some things publicly available but not others. In order to make well informed choices and form opinions, a wide and deep knowledge base is needed. I agree with the authors’ call for transparency in this issue. I believe they added further strength to their argument by addressing their oppositions.
They were able to more fully explain their ideas and confirm that they were advocating for transparency, not for or against the death penalty. Overall, I believe the authors have developed a well constructed and effective argument.