The death penalty has existed for well over 4000 years. In 1728 BC the code of Hamurabe was passed to allow legal execution. For centuries capital punishment was a public spectacle. States used executions to demonstrate the ultimate consequence of attacking the state. During the 18th century in England executions attracted tens of thousands of people in some cases there would be riots. Also in England the church was allowed to burn people alive at the stake for the crime of heresy. Under Queen Mary Tutor (the infamous Bloody Mary) thousands were executed just for not returning to the Catholic faith. Most of these executions took place in the market place so the public would be aware of what would happen if you decided to follow your own religion. Many burned at the stake were women and some were even children. It is ironic that Christianity is built around forgiveness. Many other gruesome mass executions throughout the ages were performed for minor crimes that today would be classed as misdemeanors.
One of the most vicious methods of execution ever invented was geared not only to inflict pain but to provide a gruesome spectacle for the public. It was the English punishment for treason. It is called hanging, drawing and countering. First you would be dragged to the place of execution on a hurdle. This is a type of sled that was attached to the back of a horse. You would be hanged to the brink of death before being cut down. The third stage of the execution is that the person’s gentiles would be cut off and burned in front of the body before it was cut from the going to the chest and the intestines would be taken out and also burned, after the body would be cut into four pieces and the head would be displayed for the public. In one case a man at the point of the hanging took a literal running jump in order to break his neck but unfortunately the cord broke instead. This caused him to be totally conscious for the rest of the execution.
In some parts of the world executions are still performed in keeping with traditions of the Catholic Church. In the Philippines, since the church believes that Christ died at 3:00 in the afternoon, every execution done in this country is performed at 3:00. Even more unbelievable is the fact that in some Islamic countries executions are performed as they were throughout history. Under Islamic law there is no difference between the church and the state and executions are carried out publicly on Friday after afternoon prayers.
The first act geared to more humane executions was passed in 1868 when Britain took execution away from the public eye and performed them behind prison walls. During this time they also started to use the new idea of the penitentiary. This was based on the concept that criminals could be reformed and those who were not sentenced to death were placed in jail for a said amount of time and then released into society to live a normal life. In France however public executions were performed until 1939. People would go to these, get drunk and watch the spectacle as a form of entertainment. In 1939 things changed when the execution of Ugene Windeman was videotaped by a photographer and pictures were published afterwards without the knowing or permission of British authorities. The French Government was very embarrassed and public execution was banned in France.
During the past year in China, Amnesty International recorded over 2000 executions and believes that the real number is much larger. The guilty are paraded through the streets before being shot once in the back of the head. Saudi Arabia also executes in public by beheading by sword outside on display. Of the more than 200 people executed in the last three years 70% of them were foreigners. Nigeria ranks third in executions. Their method is a firing squad again in public. One hundred Nigerians were executed last year under authority of the military state.
I personally find these situations very disturbing. It seems that this is something that would have taken place during the 1800's when people were not so civilized. But this is happening in today's world. As close as our nearest neighbor the United States. Although executions take place behind prison walls pro capital punishment groups gather outside of the prison with signs and cheers. In most states the law allows the family of the victims of the convicted to witness the executions. These executions seem so barbaric in a society where human life is supposedly valued so highly and every child grows up hearing uncountable times that two wrongs do not make a right. It is also not surprising to note that the vast majority of people on death row in the US are poor non-Caucasian males.
The question I ask myself is if how we look upon the methods of execution in the past with such horror and disgust, what our descendants will think of the methods in use today. In my opinion the death penalty should be banned. The New Testament condemns it and study after study confirms that it does not cure crime. Canada is one of the few countries that agree with my views. Many believe that families of victims of violent crimes deserve this satisfaction or that society should not support murderers for years in prison and put lives of guards and other prisoners at risk but this does not make sense because there is so much room for error in the actual conviction of criminals and the rich go free while the poor get sentenced to death. Our people will never be 100% on one side of this issue but hopefully those who make the final decisions will finally see what happening and end one of the worse government acts condoned today.
Arts and Entertainment Channel, History, Aired March 4, 1997