Just over five years ago, on March 9, 2011, history was made when then-governor Pat Quinn signed a bill in a private ceremony that ended the death penalty. Illinois ended its legal practice of trying, convicting, sentencing, and then after numerous appeals, carrying out the ending of someone’s life who had been sentenced to die. A major and very valid reason for ending the death penalty here was that we had a number of people on death row scheduled to die for crimes they didn’t commit.
However, we have walking here on the streets of Chicago numerous individuals who still practice the “street death penalty” for any perceived reason. These murdering thugs have decided that they have the right to become judge, jury and executioner. It hit home this past Friday, March 18, when Lorenzo Lonnell Lancaster, a young man I’ve known since he was 15, was shot and killed in the 3700 block of West Division.
Now Lorenzo wasn’t an angel. Like many who grew up in that area, he got involved in a mess and even did a long stint in prison. I have no clue what the “beef” was that led to someone shooting him down and leaving him for dead on the sidewalk. But for it to occur on a Friday afternoon just before 2 p.m. encapsulates the total disregard for not only human life but the lives of anybody else who could have been injured and killed when those bullets went flying.
A number of black politicians lauded Gov. Quinn’s actions when he ended the death penalty. Without a death penalty, we were told that the person guilty of committing any heinous crime will spend the rest of their life in prison without any chance of getting parole. What our politicians didn’t consider is how unconcerned many criminals are when it comes to going to jail for the rest of their lives.
Recently in North Korea, Otto Frederick Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for attempting to remove a political banner from a hotel. The video of his repentant apology, and photos of his being carried off to prison, is what I want to see for prisoners in this country who are guilty of atrocious acts. Our criminal justice system is now such a joke that many commit terrible crimes secure in the knowledge that life in prison is simply “3 hots and a cot.”
When the death penalty was in place, the argument about it being a “deterrent to crime” was always at the forefront of the discussion. It is always hard to prove a point that cannot be validated because we are not privy to the decisions whereby a criminal chooses to not do something. However, the same 13th Amendment to the constitution that ended slavery also allowed for the continuation of it in this regards: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Since we have so many individuals who have no fear of spending the rest of their life in prison, then let’s replace the death penalty with the ability to do as the 13 Amendment allows. Let’s put them into slavery doing hard labor. No more visitation days. No conjugal visits. No three decent meals, television, phone calls to family and friends. Perhaps only then can we get the criminal element in this country to fear justice the same way Otto Warmbier feared the North Korean sentence. And best of all, not a single lawyer can claim that a sentence of slavery is “cruel and unusual punishment,” seeing that slavery existed when the constitution was written.