Utah on the wrong side of history

Apr 9 2013 - 1:49pm

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Editorial opinion
Editorial opinion

Last month, the state of Maryland became the eighteenth state in the U.S. to do away with the death penalty. In which direction do you think this issue is going? Will the number of states with the death penalty increase or decrease? While working for the U.S. Department of Justice, I assisted Poland and Albania with criminal justice issues surrounding requirements for European Union membership. Dissolving the death penalty is required for membership in the EU. Besides Texas, what state do you think will be one of the last to give up the death penalty? 

Statistically, the death penalty in America is racially misrepresented. According to the last U.S. census, African Americans account for approximately 13 percent of our population. African Americans currently account for 42.6 percent of the people on death row. I ask you to visualize the metaphor portrayed in Lady Justice. Blindfolded with a scale in one hand and a sword in the other -- do you think she can see these percentages? I'm not suggesting these people are innocent. I'm challenging our solution.

It is important to point out that of the 13 percent of African Americans in the United States, half are women. There are very few women on death row in America. In addition, of the 13 percent of African-Americans in the U.S. one third are children. We do not execute children under the age of 18 years. If you do the math, the 42.6 percent on death row are African American adult men. African American adult men make up approximately 5 percent of our total U.S. population; yet they make up 42.6 percent of those on death row. Do you think Lady Justice can do the math?

President Harry Truman was often blunt spoken. He once said, "People think I give them hell. I never give them hell. I just tell them the truth and they think its hell."

With President Truman's statement in mind, I want to clearly state some facts that have placed Utah on the wrong side of history and have hurt Utah. First, most Utahns, in the late 1800s, didn't want to give up polygamy. Utah was on the wrong side of this issue, and eventually gave up.  Second, not giving African Americans the priesthood, until 1978, again placed the majority of Utahns on the wrong side of history and made all of Utah appear to be racist.

As we look at what the future holds in America, what side of history will Utah be on? From gay rights, and women's issues, to gun violence and the death penalty, what side of history do you think Utah will be on? It appears that many Utahns are fearful of the future. Decisions based on fear are never good. Is stashing gold, clutching guns and ammunition, storing two years worth of food, all based on the unfounded expectation of Armageddon or the failure of government -- circumstantial evidence? 

These nonsensical positions and fears are firmly placing Utah on the wrong side of history and pushing Utah politics to the margins of American society. 

There is a curious thinness to Utah's collective thinking on these contemporary issues. 

As Oscar Wilde, the prolific Irish poet said, "You can't reason a man out of something he didn't reason himself into." Will Utah be reasonable about gay rights, women's rights, gun violence, and the death penalty or will we again find ourselves on the wrong side of history?  I think this is one of those problems that even duct tape can't fix!

Robert C. Wadman is professor, emeritus, criminal justice department, at Weber State University.

 

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