Why Supporting the Death Penalty is Mainstream in Taiwan

Why Supporting the Death Penalty is Mainstream in Taiwan
Photo Credit: Corbis/達志影像

The U.S. once conducted a research on the debate of the death penalty, and if memory serves me well, it showed that among the Americans that were in favor of the punishment, Caucasians held more than five percent; Hispanics were a bit lower at around four percent while African Americans ran lowest at less than four percent. As for people with religion, those who believe in afterlife, their approval rate of the death penalty was higher than average.

States in the U.S. with high racial tension generally back the penalty. Though the south was defeated in the Civil War, the supporting (and reinforcing) of the death penalty has been passed on to this day, and the approval rates are higher than in the north.

Another experiment took the approach “African Americans seem to face more undeserved death penalties” and tried to persuade Caucasians to support the abolishment of the punishment. Results showed even more people were prone to back the death penalty because of the experiment. Caucasians generally believe these are mistakes worth bearing, even if there is a possibility of mistrial (an erroneous judgment of the justice system is basically impractical).

Those who believe “I will never be a victim of the death penalty” along with people who trust karma (in other words, religion) are also inclined to back the sentence. Ones who support the punishment are also prone to believe that the justice system and its reinforcement are logical and trustworthy.

Furthermore, through acknowledging karma and afterlife, the subconscious accepts the idea “even if one dies of persecution in this world, he/she will still receive a fair trial before God” and eases the guilt of death penalty mistrials.

Religious people tend to believe in rewarding the good and punishing the evil, along with moral justice (in other words, revenge). As for those without religion, they are more inclined to accept “institutional justice,” which reduces the damage to a minimum through law and system.

Turning to African Americans, they support the death penalty because they see the justice system as unfair and feel animosity from the police, which is a reality in the U.S.

Take the early 90s riot in L.A. for example. The media aired edited clips of police violence and the jury in turn declared the police not guilty, which ultimately led to an uproar. After all, the police’s sworn evidence will affect the court’s decision and it wouldn’t be the first time the police created false evidence for cover-up or even retribution.

We all know the “Grand Theft Auto” video game series. The reason this game is so popular, besides offering unrestrained world perspectives and the thrill of bending the rules, is the narratives reflect controversial issues of the American police force and other unjust matters. This resonates with players that come from the bottom of the American society.

African Americans do not believe in the police and justice, and feel deeply threatened by the idea of becoming victims of the death penalty. So they oppose the sentence with fear that one day the punishment will become an inexcusable weapon used against them and the ones they love.

As for Taiwan, there are more religious people compared with Hong Kong and China, therefore the Taiwanese society generally supports the death penalty. This is a reasonable assumption because it’s similar to how religious people in the U.S. are prone to back the punishment.

People with religion usually believe in the supremacy of ethics; criminals should get vengeance or else it’s unfair to victims and those who abide the law. This cultural characteristic causes Taiwan to naturally lean toward supporting the death penalty.

Moreover, the trust put into the police and justice seems to be shifting. I’m not familiar with the typical Taiwanese society, however if the police force messes up more than a few times, for example by protecting the rich and powerful, enforcing the law unjustly, conducting violence and so on, and leads to the Taiwanese questioning the judicial system and police authority of their own country, the approval rates of the death penalty are most likely to alter.

But as least for now, voices backing the death penalty are still louder, which hints the Taiwanese’s confidence of the police and justice hasn’t yet cracked. Many countries that support the abolishment of the penalty have just come out of a history of public power that went out of control, like Germany, which is very reserved toward public power due to its history of the Nazis and East Germany.

Though these countries also despise serious felons, they are more terrified of their country becoming a criminal that uses the death penalty as a weapon. These countries usually have also gone through transitional justice and see a subsidence of social conflict.

There is also an interesting fact that relates to abolishing the penalty; as a stereotypically aggressive militant country, Russia is instinctively a nation that enforces the death penalty. But it in fact has revoked the punishment and hasn’t executed the death penalty for nearly 20 years.

Translated by Olivia Yang