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Youth Speaks at The American School

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

On Monday 5 February, 5th formers Uttarayan, Philip and Sam entered the Rotary Youth Speaks competition at The American School in St John's Wood. This is a formal public speaking competition, in which there is a Chairperson, Speaker and Vote of Thanks.

The aim is for the Speaker to discourse upon a topic for six minutes; the Chairperson introduces the topic and manages the team, the Vote of Thanks rounding off the proceedings by reminding the audience of the main points of the speech and thanking the audience in style.

Teams in the Senior competition went up to eighteen years of age; as such, some of our opponents were experienced competitors. Topics ranged from ‘Generation Snowflake’ to ‘My Existential Crisis’. Our boys delivered a passionate speech against the death penalty, which is still in operation in many countries including the US, China and Saudi Arabia.

They didn't win, but they did put in an excellent performance and were ultimately beaten by an older and more experienced team, most of whom were in their fifth year in the competition. This was our boys’ first public speaking event and they did a great job; we think they have a good chance of winning if they return next year!

The Speech: Against The Death Penalty

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’d like you to close your eyes. I want you to imagine you have been falsely convicted of a brutal murder. Imagine being sentenced to death. Imagine it was you being strapped to a table in a viewing gallery, four people watching as your life was snatched from you for a crime you did not commit. Imagine losing your ability to feel, to move, lying trapped in your own body as you feel the sharp searing pain of a heart attack course through your body. You might think that this is an unlikely situation, but according to a study conducted between 1973-2004, 1/25 of Americas death row inmates are innocent.

Today I will be evaluating whether the death penalty can ever be justified. Capital punishment has been in use since the Eighteenth-Century B.C, and is still prevalent today in countries ranging from India and Belarus to China. Over the course of this speech I will attempt to explain why I believe the death penalty can never be justified, why it can never have a place in a truly developed society, and why it will never be an appropriate measure through which to exact justice.

To illustrate my argument, I will use examples from the USA, the country most forthcoming about its practices regarding the penalty, and examine the views propagated by those who support the policy.

The main argument those who support the death penalty is that it works as a deterrent, a measure so terrible that it strikes fear into those would-be perpetrators, and prevents the crime from ever taking place. This seems, on the surface, to be a reasonable argument, but if we examine the statistics, it begins to fall apart. According to the 2016 FBI Uniform Crime Report, Southern America had the highest murder rates, even though it accounted for over 80% of all executions. The Northeast on the other hand, which has held almost no executions in recent years, had the lowest murder rates. Thus, the use of the death penalty fails to reduce the murder rate of the area, disproving the idea of deterrence. Furthermore, 88% of Americas leading criminologists agree that the death penalty fails to act as a deterrent, according to a study conducted by Radelet & Lacock in 2009. Evidently, this justification of capital punishment is invalid, and I do not believe the death penalty is a more effective threat than life in prison.

Another argument propagated by many is the supposed economic benefit of the death penalty. It prevents the state having to look after another prisoner for their whole life, a seemingly rational argument. Yet, from calculation, using Florida as an example, we find a different story. Each execution costs the taxpayer an estimated 24 million dollars, whereas a life sentence, costs 2.2 million. Not only does the taxpayer lose 21.8 million dollars, but a life is lost. A life that society could have benefitted from through prison work schemes or community service. Therefore, objectively, from an economic point of view, the death penalty is illogical

Clearly then, the death penalty is flawed. But in my opinion, it is not that it is ineffective as a deterrent, or economically illogical that makes it so terrible. It is the very fact that a life is taken. The taking of a life is at best morally questionable, no matter what the person has done. I am not by any stretch of the imagination justifying their acts or forgiving them for crimes, but I believe killing the perpetrator is not the solution. Their death punishes only those who they leave behind, their children and their family. It does not provide closure to the victim; more killing does not heal the wound. To me it only serves to punish someone who took a life by taking theirs. This old-testament eye-for-an-eye style vengeance is not only antiquated, but fundamentally wrong. We, as a developed society, should seek fair, impartial justice, through a corrective system that relies on rehabilitative measures. Not an outdated path of executions. And, as such, I come to my conclusion that the death penalty can never be justified in modern society.”


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