The death penalty, one of the most controversial topics in modern history, was at the center of a panel debate between five professors in the UH Honors College Commons on Wednesday.
“The purpose of the forum (was) to create an unbiased discussion on the death penalty,” said Erica Fletcher, president of the UH chapter of the World Aid Organization.
Fletcher, an anthropology and psychology junior, co-hosted the event with members of the UH chapter of Amnesty International. The intent of the forum was to inform the student body about issues surrounding the death penalty.
Adam Gershowitz, an associate professor of law and co-director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the UH Law Center, said that even though there is great support for the death penalty in America, most supporters are not as well informed as they should be.
“The greatest support for the death penalty team tends to be by people who don’t understand how it works,” Gershowitz said. “When people are properly informed how it actually works in the United States, support for the death penalty drops dramatically in public opinion polling.”
International human rights standards were also discussed in great detail at the panel. Since the U.S. does not consider international norms when making decisions concerning the death penalty, the panelists debated whether these norms should affect the way that Americans view the death penalty.
Assistant professor of philosophy Tamler Sommers thinks that international standards should make people think about the death penalty and its consequences.
“If international opinion is uniformly against this, then that should be a signal to us to look with a good deal of scrutiny at our justification for the death penalty,” Sommers said. “It’s certainly something that should make Americans more reflective about it.”
Assistant political science professor Elizabeth Rigby said the government should be more responsive to the opinions of the general public.
“What we do with people who break our social contract and who we include and exclude, and the burdens of citizenship, are the business of the collective body,” Rigby said.