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Claudine Clark

How Perception Shapes the Death Penalty

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At the moment of our birth, we briefly enter this world as neutral beings, devoid of biases or preferences. However, it takes mere seconds for us to be swept into an endless whirlwind of societal categorizations. We are swiftly assigned to one side or the other in the battle of privileges and disadvantages: rich or poor, white or black, wanted or unwanted, loved or hated… These are just a few criteria imposed by society that strive to determine what is deemed right or wrong.

Throughout our existence, this duality that some view as a choice and others as a fate is something we will continually face. From childhood, we are instilled with moral values and grow up believing that we make choices based on our own volition. However, the truth is that our choices are guided by our perception and life experiences. Even if we consciously decide to go against what our parents taught us, our choices are still influenced, not by our true desires or feelings, but rather by the mere act of opposition itself. Regardless of which direction we turn, our choices are inevitably shaped by our perception of things.

“Perception is reality, but it’s not necessarily the truth.” – Mark Twain

The current situation regarding the death penalty in Florida is a stark illustration of what has just been discussed. On one side, conservatives are pushing vehemently to enforce the newly enacted law that reduces the required number of favorable jurors for imposing the death penalty from 12-0 to 8-4. This law’s constitutionality is highly contested and has stirred deep divisions. On the other side, Democrats are striving to halt trials and resentencing until the question of the law’s constitutionality is brought before the Florida Supreme Court and subsequently the United States Supreme Court. While this portrayal may appear somewhat caricatured, it closely mirrors the political reality. However, the fundamental question remains: to what extent do our perceptions influence us on such a weighty matter? Are they conservative because they are in favor of the death penalty, or are they in favor of the death penalty because they are conservative?

In light of the political instrumentalization of the death penalty, it becomes more evident that individuals are often in favor of the death penalty because they are conservatives. This realization highlights the profound influence of our perceptions and how we can make such grave choices based solely on our affiliation. This affiliation, in turn, is guided by values that have been deeply ingrained in our minds throughout our life journey, almost predetermined shortly after taking our first breath on this Earth.

Our perception of the world, including complex issues like the death penalty, is heavily shaped by the societal, cultural, and ideological frameworks we encounter throughout our lives. From the very beginning, we are exposed to familial, educational, and cultural influences that mold our perspectives on morality, justice, and punishment. These influences, often subtle and ingrained, can instill biases and predispositions that guide our stance on significant matters such as the death penalty.

Moreover, our desire for belonging and identification plays a substantial role in our perceptions and choices. We tend to align ourselves with groups that share our values and beliefs, seeking validation and affirmation of our worldview. This tribalistic tendency can further entrench our position on contentious issues like capital punishment. We may adopt and defend certain viewpoints not solely due to a critical examination of the facts or ethical considerations, but rather as a result of aligning ourselves with a particular identity and its associated values.

This interplay between our perceptions, values, and affiliation underscores the complex nature of our decision-making processes. It highlights the need for introspection and critical thinking to ensure that our choices are based on a genuine understanding of the issue at hand, rather than being driven solely by external influences. 

This very mode of operation is at the heart of the problem surrounding the death penalty. Human beings are inherently incapable of complete impartiality, as our perception and decision-making are influenced by personal biases, societal norms, and political motivations. This reality poses a significant challenge when it comes to a matter as grave as the death penalty. Our flawed nature raises serious concerns about the fairness and reliability of capital punishment.

The power to determine whether a person lives or dies should not be entrusted to individuals who are susceptible to subjective judgments and external pressures. History has repeatedly shown instances of wrongful convictions, racial disparities, and political instrumentalization of the death penalty. Such injustices highlight the inherent flaws of relying on human judgment in matters of life and death.

Moreover, the potential for irreversible errors and the violation of basic human rights cannot be overlooked. The death penalty system is prone to mistakes, and the consequences of these errors are irreversible and irreparable. The risk of executing innocent individuals undermines the integrity and legitimacy of the entire capital punishment system.

Recognizing the fallibility of human perception and the potential for biased decision-making, it becomes evident that the death penalty is an inherently flawed practice. Instead of perpetuating a system that is influenced by subjective factors, we should focus on fostering a justice system that promotes rehabilitation, restorative justice, and addressing the root causes of crime.

In light of these considerations, the true question arises: Can we, as flawed individuals, truly possess the power to determine the fate of another person’s life? The inherent limitations of human perception and the potential for injustices underscore the urgency to abolish the death penalty. It is only through the abolition of this flawed practice that we can strive towards a more just and humane society that values the preservation of life and promotes genuine justice for all.

About the Author
Claudine Clark is president/founder of the French Coalition Against the Death Penalty. An abolitionist, paralegal and human rights consultant, her passion stems from her origins as the granddaughter of Warsaw ghetto survivors. She defends human values of forgiveness and tolerance through numerous actions.
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