Thursday, May 09, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #107 - Part 6

Outrage of the Week: death penalty proposed in Massachusetts

I'm going to start with some good news: On May 2, Maryland became the sixth state in six years to abolish the death penalty. The other five were Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia now ban the death penalty and, according to Ben Jealous of the NAACP, repeal advocates are within striking distance of a ban in four more states: Delaware, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Kansas.

Even in the states that retain the death penalty, many are using it sparingly. Last year, 77 people were sentenced to death in the entire country; that's the second-lowest number since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. State governments are gradually coming to realize that the death penalty is too expensive, too likely to be biased, and the risk of executing an innocent person - considering that since 1989, 18 people on death row have been positively exonerated by DNA evidence - is just too great.

Unhappily, one state is insisting on going the other way. Florida is considering ways to speed up executions, to make it easier to kill people by limiting appeals and shortening time frames. It's already unusually easy to convict someone of a capital crime in Florida, and now the state wants to make sure that the convicted get as few chances as possible to change anyone's mind.

But the outrage I wanted to address here is not in Florida or in Texas, which remains the death penalty capital of America. No, it's here at home.

There is a bill in the Massachusetts state House of Representatives, with a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee set for July 9, to reinstate the death penalty in Massachusetts.


Now, I freely admit that this bill has little chance of passing: An attempt to attach it as an amendment to a spending bill got rejected by 119-38 in favor of a substitute calling for a study of the issue, which is a standard means in the state legislature of effectively tabling a bill. But that doesn't change the fact that it's being pushed and doesn't answer the question why?

This was not even an emotional response to the Boston Marathon bombings; the bill's chief sponsor, James Miceli, introduced it a couple of days before that attack. And the main argument for it was that it would be a “gold standard” for capital punishment cases since it aimed to provide safeguards against wrongful convictions, including using verifiable scientific evidence such as DNA testing, and was limited to certain specific cases.

But that only raises yet again, the question of why? If your death penalty bill is so narrowly and carefully tailored that in practice it would hardly ever be applied, what is the point?

Has there been some big surge in murders in Massachusetts? Hardly; in fact the murder rate in Massachusetts has been consistently below the national average and is little changed from 15 years ago. So again, why? What is the point?

The point, to answer my own question, is to have a death penalty. Any death penalty. Even if it's one that might be applied once in 50 years. It doesn't matter. They don't care. Just have a death penalty. Miceli himself said he would favor a broader capital punishment bill but pushed this one because he thinks it has a better chance of passing.

They just want to see blood. They want to have dreams of flesh sizzling in an electric chair, the gagging and choking of the gas chamber, the jerking and twitching of the lethal drug cocktail. They just want to have officially-sanctioned death.

They want to bring back this symbol of savagery, this badge of barbarism, to a state that got rid of it nearly thirty years ago. The good news is that it is very unlikely they will succeed. The outrage is that they are even trying.


1 comment:

DaisyDeadhead said...

You are freed of the sordid spectacle of the gross bloodthirsty 'vigils' (the media's term, its actually a mob) outside the 'death houses'--thank Buddha there are always preachers, rabbis, priests and nuns out there praying too... otherwise it would ONLY be a bunch of scary-looking, dazed people; a sick, mass-celebration in front of the prison, screaming for blood. They always have signs saying all manner of violent, sick-ass shit, just as gross.

There are inevitably cheers when they announce the person is dead... back in the day, in Ohio, the lights would dim when they threw the switch on the electric chair, and they would all cheer like maniacs when they saw it.

Its always turned my stomach. But yes, blood is what they want.

I have to say, that disgusting display is what eventually turned me against the death penalty, decades before I was a vegetarian and decided all killing was wrong... I decided I wanted NOTHING TO DO with those people, and no beliefs in common with them.

If you haven't read Damien Echols book, I highly recommend it. He really goes into the gory details. Some of the condemned (always the poorest and usually mentally-challenged in some way) are already crazy from solitary when they take them down to the death house. He describes how some come back after getting a last minute stay of execution, and they look decades older in only a couple of days. It just blew my mind; an incredible book, mentioned it here.

I'd hate to see a nice liberal state like yours cave to the goons on this issue... you give us a lot of hope.

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