Hickman High School panel discusses capital punishment

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 | 9:10 p.m. CDT; updated 10:51 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 27, 2010

COLUMBIA — "Qui tacet consentit" is Latin for "silence implies consent." And for George Frissell, coordinator of the Speak Your Mind Forum Series at Hickman High School, the point of putting that on his opening PowerPoint was to emphasize that as Americans, we have a right to be heard.

Frissell explained that these forums, which occur four times over the course of the school year, are a perfect outlet for that to take place. Students and members of the community are encouraged to attend as a selected panel discusses their opinion on a given issue and answer student-prompted questions.

More than 75 students and adults gathered at Hickman High School commons Tuesday night as part of the second Speak Your Mind Series Forum of the school year. The topic of choice was capital punishment.

The students picked the topic by way of a vote, according to a previous Missourian article. Their first discussion focused on the proposed Muslim community center near Ground Zero.

It was a process that started at the beginning of the school year, where the committee spent a week letting students submit suggestions during the lunch period. 

Once the week was over, the committee selected the 20 topics that received the most votes. They then randomly selected 400 students in grades 10 through 12 and let them pick again.

Capital punishment actually received the most votes, but because the issue of the community center near Ground Zero was more timely, the students gave it precedence. 

Tuesday night’s panelists included Columbia Police Department Deputy Chief Tom Dresner, MU law professor Rodney Uphoff and Jeff Stack, from the Friends of Reconciliation — an organization that supports justice and nonviolence, according to its website.

Their positions are listed below:

Tom Dresner

“My own personal opinion has evolved over the years. In some places, there’s a desire for capital punishment to provide finality and a sense of closure for the victims. Yet, in 2010 it’s become so far removed from the crime that no one even remembers why the person’s being put to death. And so, if there is to be a deterrent effect, which is what the state wants for capital punishment to serve as, is this could happen to you if you murder, that message is completely lost. From another point of view, how much does it cost? It costs a lot more to put someone to death then it does to keep them in prison for the rest of their lives with no parole. So, with all of those things, I would say I land in the middle.”

Rodney Uphoff

“I think that the criminal justice system can’t ensure that they get it right 100 percent of the time and unfortunately, given the flaws in the system, we end up getting it wrong more times than we think. Beyond that, I also think that the present system is designed to only give the death penalty to the worst of the worst, and that’s not the way it works in practice. And last, it costs way too much money. And in a system that’s already operating ineffectively and inefficiently because we need more resources, the amount of money that’s devoted to the prosecution is way too much, and it distorts the operation of the system in other significant ways.”  

Jeff Stack

“I am very much in support of repeal, of ending it all together. When I was in high school with these kids, I was very much in support of the death penalty. I lived a life of privilege, without really an understanding of what it was. I went into VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America, and I ended up meeting some people, I worked with adults who had just come out of prison and were getting ready to go back to life. It was kind of thrown in my face. It is an issue that affects so few people in a direct way.”

Lisa Nieder, a math teacher at Hickman, was the facilitator.

There will be two more forums this school year in February and March, and the topics have not yet been decided.

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