Execute the death penalty:
A look at the past, present, and future of capital punishment
by Rose O'Brien & Anya Babb-Brott | March 29th, 2021
"Dear President-Elect Biden, We write to urge you to end the use of the federal death penalty on your first day in office.”
On December 15, 2020, 45 members of the House of Representatives expressed their concern to the president in this single, straightforward sentence. On January 22, 36 members asked Biden to commute the death sentences of the 49 people remaining on death row. And on January 26, a group of former elected officials sent Biden a letter, urging him to “immediately take all actions within [his] power to end the federal death penalty once and for all.”
Biden’s presidential campaign promised to end the death penalty, and although abolition will occur neither quickly nor easily, he has yet to address the issue.
The first recorded execution in the United States occurred in 1608. The punishment has historically faced heavy criticism, dating back to the abolitionist movements of the 1700s. However, progress to repeal capital punishment has been slow―convoluted with arguments for tradition, and a deep history of racism within the United States government. Four centuries since the colonial era, executions remain a viable sentencing option.
Presidential administrations have historically been evasive of the issue, and any efforts made to repeal capital punishment are often reversed by successive administrations. Former President Barack Obama called the issue “deeply troubling,” yet did little more than commute two sentences. Former President Donald Trump carried out 13 executions in his term, quadrupling the amount that have taken place since 1988. Biden is facing pressure to break this cycle.
The death penalty is also carried out at the state level, and is currently legal in 28 states. Out of the 22 states that outlawed the punishment, three have a gubernatorial moratorium―meaning the governor has suspended any inmates from being killed, despite the court’s ruling. Maine outlawed the death penalty in 1887.
Critics of the penalty condemn the morality of death as a punishment. Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, once stated, “The question of the death penalty is not, ‘Do people deserve to die for the crimes they commit?’... [it’s], ‘Do we deserve to kill?'” What makes one death illegal and the next just?
Capital punishment also faces constitutional backlash. Under the Eighth Amendment, the practice of “cruel and unusual form of punishment” is prohibited. As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) addressed, the death penalty was a form of penalization when slavery and branding were also legal methods. With an evolving society comes evolving ethics, and what was once deemed acceptable or cruel is subject to change and reevaluation.
Methods of execution are also evolving. The US government has deemed many methods acceptable, from lethal injection, lethal gas, and electrocution to hanging and firing squads. It may be enough for you to simply imagine someone being electrocuted to understand the sickening nature of this act, but if you still aren’t convinced, I urge you to watch the 2019 film Just Mercy. The inmates and guards can usually smell the burning flesh of the person killed by the “Yellow Mama.”
It is important to note that a significant amount of people who are put on death row are wrongfully convicted. Since 1973, 174 people on death row have been exonerated. 174 lives that could’ve been unnecessarily lost. And unsurprisingly, most of the people who are wrongfully convicted are either people of color or those who cannot afford adequate counsel. Anthony Ray Hinton was notoriously sentenced to death for committing a crime he clearly did not commit, and ended up spending 30 years of his life in prison before being released. Hinton was told by a prosecutor, “Even if we didn’t get the right one, at least we got one off the street.” And by “one,” the prosecutor meant “black.”
If justice is the ultimate goal of our legal system, then the finality of death is the complete antithesis. As put by Warren Gignac for Exponents Magazine, “No institution as racist, cruel, and error-prone as capital punishment can ever work in the name of justice.” If Anthony Ray Hinton had been killed before the evidence vindicated him, would that have been justice?
Mental illness adds another layer of complexity to the issue. According to Mental Health America, “at least 20% of people on death row today have a serious mental illness.” This is in spite of the outcome of the 2002 Supreme Court case Atkins v. Virginia. A 6-3 opinion found that the death penalty as a sentence for the mentally ill was prohibited by the Eighth Amendement. Unfortunately, states have found loopholes to this ruling and have narrowed their definitions of “intellectual disabilities.”
An example of this is Lisa Montgomery, a woman who committed murder and was recently executed for it. It’s not as black and white as that, though―Montgomery faced unspeakable trauma and abuse as a child. Although legal action was necessary in the face of murder, as her half-sister Diane Mattingly said before the execution, “she shouldn’t have to die. Because maybe if she hadn’t been failed by the people she needed most in society, she could have been part of it.”
Capital punishment is a catch-all solution within a system that requires nuanced perspectives. Every situation, every crime, every person is different, and we need to start reviewing, and sentencing, as such.
Ethics aside, evidence shows the death penalty is not even an effective tool at reducing violence. The ACLU states that “there is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than long terms of imprisonment.” States that continue to use capital punishment don’t have lower crime rates than those that have abolished it, and vice versa, making it unneccesary murder. According to a survey done in 1995 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, two-thirds of the police chiefs questioned said that the death penalty was not an effective method at lowering crime, and they ranked it last among other methods such as curbing drug abuse and longer sentencing.
The death penalty is ineffective, rooted in bigotry, and most importantly, inhumane. As one of the only developed nations left with it, it is important for President Biden to move swiftly and effectively to abolish it and move forward with prison reform.
For further reading/viewing, check out:
-Just Mercy (book and film)
-True Justice (documentary)
-@eji_com on instagram
-The ACLU website
-The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton
-In the Dark (podcast)
A Look at the Biden Inauguration
by Alice Moskowitz and Charlotte Taylor | March 26th, 2021
On January 20th, 2021 many happy tears were shed after four years of what some would call an incapable and destructive leader. Our country inaugurated President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. and our first female and person of color Vice President Kamala Devi Harris. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential rival who became a key Biden backer in the fall, argues that the challenges plaguing America demand that Biden governs as “the most progressive president since FDR.” Biden moved immediately, issuing 17 orders and directions during his first hours in the office. He began by doing what Trump never did: making the fight against Covid-19 the priority of the administration and the nation. He thankfully began his presidential pursuits the minute he was inaugurated. This day will be remembered in American history.
Although it was a day of politics, history was made in other ways, as well. Americans couldn't help but notice the fashion choices of many political icons. Vice President Harris looked gorgeous in a deep purple suit. She brought media attention when she wore Pyer Moss, a Black-owned fashion label created by Kerby Jean-Raymond, to the COVID-19 memorial. During the inauguration ceremony, Harris wore purple alongside the previous first ladies, including Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, and Hillary Clinton in honor of the women’s suffrage movement. The newly-elected vice president was also wearing her signature pearls. This was a nod to her sorority roots of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc and Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) wore pearls owned by Chisholm that were given to her as a gift from Chisholm’s goddaughter. President Biden went with a classic Ralph Lauren suit and mask, which is a classy choice. Though lacking in creativity and support of smaller or local businesses. Step it up, Joe! It is important to note that no matter what Vice President Harris decided to wear, her intellect, leadership skills, and determination to spread equality will improve our country.
After the horrific storming of the capitol on January 6th, 2021 it was clear that this inauguration would not be accepted by all. The United States, in recent history, has not been more divided. With many conservatives still believing Trump should be in the office, Riots were inevitable. Many were anticipating Biden’s speech particularly because of the recent events with the election. He handled it powerfully preaching “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” Biden said. “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts if we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes — as my mom would say, ‘Just for a moment, stand in their shoes.’ ” These were the exact words America needed to hear after an eventful and frustrating four years. This speech brings inspiration for our country's unity and hopes to move forward.
Progression; the word that drives our generation and the ones to come. A future that is more accepting and united is a future that many young people crave. Joe Biden promised this future in his speech. Biden knows that the reason he won was that he is the winner of the young vote. Young people are often an overlooked demographic. Students in high school and college are often those who care most about the future because they are the future. To appeal to that audience Biden did a lot of social media campaigning. The President himself is no stranger to social media, but he was also showcased on many celebrities' socials; Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus each hosted an Instagram Live with Vice President Harris to discuss the campaign. Beyoncé posted a boomerang on Instagram wearing a Biden and Harris face mask and encouraging Texans to go vote. Harry Styles quoted a Joe Biden campaign video on Twitter. Hailey Bieber posted wearing all her Biden merch on Instagram. Biden joined Liza Koshy on her YouTube channel to discuss getting young people out and voting. Many more celebrities also came out strong on social media telling their audience to get out there and vote. Even if Biden and Harris aren’t their votes, go vote because that is the only way democracy works.
President Biden and Vice President Harris’ inauguration was full of many moving and inspirational words. Some of the best coming from Amanda Gorman, an American poet, and activist. At 22 years old Gorman became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. A graduate from Harvard College Gorman’s work focuses on issues of oppression, feminism, race, and advocating for marginalized communities. Amanda Gorman showed up looking stunning to the inauguration in her yellow suit, and then graced our nation, and the world over, with beautiful words from her poem “The Hill We Climb”. She; the personification of Black excellence. To summarize the poem was to celebrate the United States as a country that is not perfect, but a country that has grit as it has struggled with its problems. The poem argues that progress isn’t something that can happen all at once, but is instead a “climb” up the “hill” to justice. This climb takes forbearance and dedication to work for a better future, but that future is a real possibility.
Somehow we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
The optimism that Gorman shared in her poem is exactly what this country needs as we “find light in this never-ending shade” that had been cast over us for the past four years. It could have been very easy for the inauguration to have been the current administration bashing the past, but instead, it was a true time of celebration.
Back to the day of the storming of the Capital; there was one Capital officer who did exactly the right thing on the day of the act of domestic terrorism on the Capitol building. Capitol Police officer, Eugene Goodman, faced off against the violent mob of Trump supporters on January 6th. By doing this he distracted the rioter from the unguarded Senate chambers. Saving the Senators, staff, and reporters hiding within. These courageous acts did not go unnoticed. Goodman was made an honorary Deputy Sergeant at Arms for Inauguration Day. He escorted Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff to the ceremony. It was undoubtedly another celebration of a person who helped to save democracy. Goodman, unlike some of the other officers, did not guide rioters throughout the building and he did not take photos with the protestors. Instead, he did his job. He protected the area and the people he was paid to serve. For that, he was also honored in his field with the temporary promotion to walk alongside the Vice President.
In conclusion, January 20, 2021, was an eventful day on so many levels. A wonderful day full of celebration. The people holding the highest office of power in this country are professionals in their field of work. They worked alongside and honored other professionals in their respected fields. Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris honored black-owned businesses by wearing fashion done by black women. Biden shouted out to most of America for being strong during the past chaotic four years and promised more from his administration to the American people. Celebrities that run the social media world helped Biden and Harris get their goals out to the young people who are eligible to vote. Amanda Gorman blessed America with hopeful words and demonstrated along with Biden that speech impediments do not have an equal neurological deficiency. Being well-spoken and smart is not negated by stuttering or an inability to pronounce words the “normal” way. Eugene Goodman was shown off for his great work on January 6, 2021. A snapshot of the important events of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ inauguration on Wednesday, January 20, 2021.
To Sleep In A Sea Of Stars
by Nicole Pendleton | March 24th, 2021
Christopher Paolini, the New York Times bestselling author of the series The Inheritance Cycle, once again blows us away with his amazing writing in his latest book, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. This new sci-fi book is set far in 2252, and the book follows Kira Navárez, who stumbles upon an alien relic on an uncolonized planet. When this relic seems to enter and become a part of her, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation for both herself and others. Finding the existence of and fighting new alien species leads Kira to a strange ship with a strange crew, the Wallfish. There she will meet people who will help her right the struggling galaxy, which might have more to do with Kira and the strange relic than they thought.
As a previous fan of all of Christopher Paolini’s books, this one definitely lived up to the expectations. Not only is it action packed, but every piece of it was super creative and truly thrilling to read. As an avid reader of sci-fi, fantasy, and anything thrilling, I have read many books about the mysteries and dangers of the unknown space. This one is decidedly unique. Although I’m no physicist, the science of the story is very solid, from the ship calculations and the ships themselves, to tidbits about geology. At the very end in the appendices, Paolini even goes in depth into all of the research that he did for this book, to ensure it seemed within the world of reason.
While the book itself and the content is beautifully developed and thought out, with its beautiful imagery and captivating characters, some might have trouble getting through such a long book. Standing at almost 900 pages, it is no small read, and those who have shorter attention spans may find the book to be a bit more difficult as some spots seem to drag on. But for those who prefer audiobooks, the audio is extremely well-paced with a narrator that is pleasing to listen to. But again, be warned of length, the audio book is 32 hours 29 minutes long.
I fell in love with the book almost immediately and would suggest everyone reading this to read or listen to the book as well. With his return long in the making, Christopher Paolini truly showed his skill and dedication in this book. A copy of it can be found at our very own Edna St Vincent Millay Library.
Is It Time To Eliminate the SAT?
by Gail Curtis | March 21st, 2021
The SAT has been a rite of passage for high school students ever since it was first created in 1926. Generations of students have had to endure the exam as a gateway to a higher level of education. However, it has been a biased gateway, building more obstacles around education than it tears down; a gateway that COVID has finally forced colleges and students to reevaluate.
When the COVID-19 pandemic left thousands of students unable to take the exam, many colleges set aside the testing requirements for this year, including all eight Ivy League schools. The College Board has lost millions of dollars in revenue and recently announced that it would be eliminating two optional SAT tests: the subject matter achievement tests and the writing test. This precedent, coupled with the large number of institutions that have already become test-optional in recent years due to growing disenchantment with standardized tests, suggests that the end might be near for the SAT.
Camden Hills Gazette sat down with Johanna Billington, a school counselor at CHRHS, to ascertain her views on the SAT. “Is it worth taking? Yes!” Billington says. “Especially since Maine pays for it....It’s good to test yourself in that high-stakes situation...but you can’t put too much weight in it.” She thinks that the “SAT is valuable because it is useful to see where there might be gaps in learning.” However, she doesn’t feel as if it’s a “complete picture of what a student knows,” as “some people are really good at taking tests and some people really aren’t, and therefore they aren’t able to demonstrate what they know.”
Many students of CHRHS share Billington’s views. CHG sent out a survey to the juniors and seniors of CHRHS regarding their opinions of the exam. From this survey, CHG learned that only 1.6% of the 63 students that responded believed the SAT was an accurate measure of a student's academic performance and readiness for college. Additionally, only a minuscule 4.8% of students thought that the SAT should not be eliminated, meaning that the vast majority of the student body wishes that CHRHS would do away with the exam for good. In the free-response section of the survey, many students anonymously voiced their issues with the SAT.
One student reported: "While the SAT is a good way to see a student's academic performance, for me personally, I am a terrible test taker, even though every single one of my grades is high honors...I think colleges should consider more of a students' extracurriculars, personality, and grades before test scores." This sentiment was shared by dozens of other students, who all fear that they will be measured solely by their test-taking abilities, and not their personalities or potential as learners.
Another student replied, "It may be useful for colleges to have an 'objective' comparison of students in differing schools, but it is clear that the economic status and cultural background will greatly affect one's performance, and therefore such comparisons are, in my opinion, meaningless."
This response highlights another reason why educators and students all around America are calling for the elimination of the SAT; they fear that the exam is biased. These fears are reasonable. In May of 2020, the University of California's Board of Regents voted 23 to 0 to discontinue using SAT/ACT scores because their research had "convinced them that performance on the SAT and ACT was so strongly influenced by family income, parents' education and race that using them for high-stakes admissions decisions was simply wrong." This was articulated at a conference the previous November 2019 at Berkeley's Law School by UC Berkeley's Chancellor Carol T. Christ and UC Provost Michael Brown.
This decision came only a year after the Compton Unified School District filed a lawsuit demanding that the University of California system eliminate the requirement that students take the SAT. In this lawsuit, they claimed that the exam was biased and didn't predict a student's potential success, as it put children of color, children from low-income families, and children with disabilities at a disadvantage.
In CHG’s interview with Johanna Billington, she also touched on her experiences with the SAT, and how she believes that “there is some implicit bias in the testing...if you’re coming from a lower socio-economic community, you don’t have the same resources that other communities do in terms of classes, SAT prep, etc.”
The SAT can be compared to a locked gate surrounding a higher education. Only some students have the key to this gate—those who are higher on the socio-economic scale who can afford to take prep courses, can afford to be tutored and can afford to retake the test several times. Those who have this key do not suffer from test anxiety or learning disabilities such as ADHD or dyslexia, which can significantly inhibit a student's abilities to perform well on these types of tests.
In addition to all of this, several studies have found that Black and Hispanic or Latino students are significantly underrepresented at selective universities due to the large racial gaps in SAT scores. The SAT has become a barrier for students from less privileged backgrounds, actively contributing to inequality in the admissions system, even though its original goal was to level the playing field for all college applicants and diversify college's student bodies. In the survey CHG sent out, 88.9% of students answered that they believed the SAT was somewhat biased.
The purpose of the SAT has changed dramatically in the years since its creation. In her interview, Johanna Billington discusses how the College board spends millions of dollars on advertising each year, and reveals that the intention of the SAT went from “‘We want to get more kids into college, especially kids who might not have that opportunity’ to ‘we are now an advertising organization for colleges.’ It started out as something different than what it is now.”
The College Board needs to follow through with its original promise of equality and diversity— knocking down the barriers of privilege and bias that it has built around higher education—or it should be eliminated altogether.
Choir Without Singing:
How Covid Has Shaped the Student Experience
by Iselin Bratz | March 10th, 2021
The Camden Hills Regional High School performing arts program has become a safe-haven for many young students over the years. With a community centered atmosphere and different learning goals than other academically focused classes, the choir and band room along with the auditorium create a space in which students can express their creativity free from judgment. For many, it was a place that would never change, a constant in the lives of high schoolers that could give them a break from their ever-changing lives. One always knew what to expect from the classes and activities. But when the unexpected happened, it completely changed the lives of everyone, all around the world. To keep schools open, every class has had to change and adapt to meet the new requirements to ensure our safety, but none have changed as much as the choir classes.
Due to the act of singing being much more dangerous when it comes to the spread of airborne diseases, the guidelines put in place for the chorus are much more rigorous than those for other classes. Singing is only allowed to take place outside with a 14ft separation and masks. This seems like no big deal, and while it was manageable at the beginning of the school year, when the winter months came it became too cold outside. This has forced members of the class to work indoors and it eliminates almost any form of singing from the class. This means that for those who attend school in-person, the fundamentals of the choir have disappeared. Instead, music has been made using separate voice memos to track progress and video recordings.
“Out of all my classes, this one has felt the most affected by COVID-19,” says Isaiah Doble, a senior at CHRHS and a member of the school's Chamber Singers. “Not being able to sing with everyone, and having to record ourselves separately with tracks [has been hard]. It doesn't only make it more difficult to produce quality music, but it takes away the community-building aspect of the choir that makes it so wonderful.”
Along with a change in the type of work the students have to complete, the lack of in-person concerts to work towards has also changed the classroom environment. “I think that having concerts is the best way to show improvement and present our talent to the community. Being virtual is just not the same,” said Isabella Kinney, a member of the school's treble choir. By not having any concerts, there isn't the same feeling of working towards a common goal as there was in past years. The choirs are also unable to see what each group is working on, which has created a disconnect between the three different choirs.
On top of the change that has come to the classroom experience, those online have their own unique set of challenges. For many online students, the classroom experience looks like sitting at home listening to the class, singing quietly along to the recordings of the music, hoping they don't disturb a family member who may also be working from home. Online students have been recording themselves privately to send to Mrs. Murphy so that their progress is monitored and have to rely entirely on their abilities to learn the music. “Recording from home has been a stressful process at times, and concerts are drastically different with the concerts being online, versus the previous regular in-person concerts,” said Maddie Johnson, a Treble Choir member who has been remote all year. “Singing with everyone in person and having concerts and events is what I miss the most. Everything is very isolated this year.”
Luckily, it is not all doom and gloom in the choir room, since choir students remain an optimistic bunch, and Mrs. Murphy, the choir director at the high school, has managed to come up with new ways to learn music with a focus on music theory and other musical outlets. With small group singing, music theory lessons, the use of Boomwhackers, and watching musicals like Hamilton the classes remain musical, despite the lack of community singing. “The one benefit that I can think of is being able to improve my music theory knowledge. Throughout the pandemic we have been practicing music theory and learning more about music in general,” says Audrey Levitt, a junior and chamber singers member. “I have learned a lot more about music theory than I ever have in past years in both choral and band,” stated Julia Benson, a chorale member.
Despite no longer having proper concerts and not singing together, every member of the different choirs has continued to enjoy what they do and most importantly, learn more about music. Even after things return to the way things used to be, the choir classes at Camden Hills will continue to be influenced by the change COVID-19 brought and will take the lessons that we learned into the following years.