This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Millennials don't trust the government.
In a recent Harvard study, nearly 75 percent of millennials said that they either rarely or never trust the government to do the right thing. There are countless debates about whether we should be involved militarily overseas, or whether we can trust the government to properly run programs like health care, taxes, or even the post office. Those issues are discussed frequently around dinner tables (or coffee shop tables while eating over-priced avocado toast for us millennials), and rightly so.
An issue that rarely gets discussed is capital punishment. For all of the reasons we distrust the government to do the right thing in so many other areas, we should distrust the government to end a person's life for the same reasons.
As conservatives and libertarians, when we do talk about the death penalty, we often hear that the most compelling argument for repeal is that the cost of imposing the death penalty is far more expensive. Utah's own legislative audit office determined that, in Utah, it costs at least $1.6 million more to sentence a person to death than to sentence them to life in prison without the possibility of parole. As fiscal conservatives, that argument should resonate with us. We pride ourselves on engaging in a daily battle with the government and its ever-expanding waste.
The most compelling reason, though, is really the fact that we simply can't trust the government to get something this serious right. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 there have been 159 death row exonerees in this county. That's 159 people who were sentenced to death and later released due to evidence of their innocence. There are many more people where the death penalty is sought, but, for various reasons, ultimately abandoned. Many of those people are later exonerated as well.
When we continue to champion a system where innocent people are sentenced to death, each of those innocent lives falls on our shoulders. When human beings are involved it's clearly impossible to reach perfection in any system, but when a person's life is a stake, I think we should expect and demand perfection.
How many innocent lives are we OK with losing in the name of "justice?" I believe our response should be a resounding "zero!" With 159 people sentenced to death and ultimately exonerated, it's hard to imagine that there aren't many more innocent people sitting on death row, and some that have already been put to death.
This is a position that millennial conservatives and libertarians can be proud of taking. Nobody is arguing that we should be weak on crime, but we must be smarter and more just. Sure, the system is fallible, and innocent people will still be wrongfully convicted, but at least they'll be alive, and at least that will give them the chance to eventually prove their innocence. As millennials, we know that just because the government has done something one way for generations, it doesn't mean that's the way it must remain.
One innocent person who is put to death in the name of justice is one too many, and only exacerbates the great injustices in the system. As millennials, but mostly as conservatives and libertarians, we should stand for the protection of innocent life. It's time to become leaders in working to end the death penalty.
Rethlyn Looker is a Utah state chair for Young Americans For Liberty and a campus coordinator for Students For Liberty. She is studying social media marketing at LDS Business College.