Favorite

Killing the death penalty 

Hopes that the U. S. Supreme Court would strike another and near-fatal blow against the death penalty this year manifestly will not be realized unless a couple of the justices surprise us. Justice Antonin Scalia's summation last week about the lack of cruelty in the poison cocktail that is commonly and often bunglingly used to execute people seems likely to prevail. The Bill of Rights, Scalia deadpanned, does not say that you can't make a condemned man or woman endure lots of pain.

If the Supreme Court were to rule the cocktail cruel and unusual, as a few courts have done, executioners would have to fall back upon a painless barbiturate used to put down pets, and no correction department wants to do that.

But even the court majority's last stand for barbarity will not change the fact that the death penalty is on its way out in the last Christian nation, as a few religionists call us, to employ it. We share the honor now with Iran, Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan and China, which with the United States account for nearly all the known state executions in the world.

Before many years, the Supreme Court will recognize the humanity of the rest of the civilized world as common law and stop the state of Texas from killing anyone else, but by then the practice will have ended nearly everywhere else.

That is the way the winds of justice and public opinion are blowing. The New Jersey legislature outlawed the death penalty last month, the 14th state to do so, but it was largely symbolic because the state had not executed anyone in 44 years. One house or the other in New Mexico and Montana voted to abolish the death penalty, and the unicameral Nebraska legislature came within one vote. Even in states where the death penalty is still the law it is rarely if ever used. Nearly every year since 1999 the number of executions has declined. In 2007, there were only 42 executions in the United States, 26 of them — 62 percent — in Texas. Even there executions are on the decline.

Even in Arkansas, where some 36 are on death row, legislative majorities have narrowed the application of the penalty.

Public opinion has gravitated gradually away from the death penalty, although the Gallup Poll still shows more than six in 10 favor it, unless killers could be kept in prison for life, in which case slightly fewer than half would find the death penalty moral.

Part of the growing reluctance arises from the relentless stories of innocent men and women being freed after serving many years on death row owing to exculpatory DNA evidence or revelations of police and prosecutor misconduct. After the Supreme Court ruled that executions could be lawful again in 1973, the process involved longer and longer delays and redundant appeals that stretched to more than a decade. But it was evidence not of a disregard of crime or unconcern for victims but of a deep moral ambivalence about executions that troubles the legal system, religion and all of our society.

Sure, executions may still be a popular vote getter — but in narrowing political quarters probably. Our favorite son for president has employed it all fall, though to what result we cannot be sure. Ever sinceMitt Romney and bloggers attacked Mike Huckabee for turning loose rapists and killers and granting clemency and pardons to more than a thousand men, Huckabee has boasted repeatedly that he oversaw the executions of many people in Arkansas, proving that he was no softie. Before a Beverly Hills fundraiser last month, he told reporters: “I carried out the death penalty 16 times, more than any other governor in my state's history.”

That sounds dubious — Gov. Jeff Davis bragged of having seven men hanged in a single day in 1902, more than double Huckabee's highest one-day toll — but Huckabee may actually have checked his facts for a change. Let us grant him the credit for having the bloodiest hands. Jeff Davis never got to execute a woman. The only woman ever executed in Arkansas died wretchedly on Huckabee's watch in 2000. (They couldn't find a vein in her elbow that would take the poison.)

Huckabee actually makes the moral case against the death penalty more eloquently than anyone else but without closing the equation. We must value every human life, no exceptions, as if it is the life of all, he says. But when he is asked what Jesus would say about the death penalty, he cracks a joke or avers that Jesus must have thought it was good or else he would have objected to being crucified.

The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty will present Gov. Beebe with petitions asking him to continue the current moratorium and appoint a commission to study the consequences of the death penalty and whether and in what way it should be continued. Something tells me he will do it. When the moratorium is lifted it will not be long before he will have to fix an execution for Damien Echols, a young man whose only crime for all that we can be sure was that he happened to be a weird kid in a town that needed to slake its horror for the unspeakable and mysterious murder of three children. By his own account, Beebe knows something about being a misfit kid.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Goodbye, Mr. Trump

    It is hard to escape the feeling that the fortunes of President Trump and the country took a decisive, and for Trump a fatal, turn May 9-10, when the president fired the director of the FBI over its investigation of Russian efforts to swing the presidential election to him and the very next day shared top-secret intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting closed except to a Kremlin press aide toting electronic gear to capture the intimate session for Russians but not Americans.
    • May 18, 2017
  • McCain is right

    Who knew that the crusty old warmonger John McCain was both an earnest and eloquent defender of human rights, a cause that is in what we hope is only a momentary decline here and around the world?
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Guns, God and gays

    Many more mass shootings like the one last week in Roseburg, Ore., will stain the future and no law will pass that might reduce the carnage. That is not a prediction but a fact of life that is immune even to Hillary Clinton.
    • Oct 8, 2015
  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015
  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016

Most Shared

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • The health of a hospital

    The Medicaid expansion helped Baxter County Regional Medical Center survive and thrive, but a federal repeal bill threatens to imperil it and its patients.
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • That modern mercantile: The bARn

    The bARn Mercantile — "the general store for the not so general," its slogan says — will open in the space formerly occupied by Ten Thousand Villages at 301A President Clinton Ave.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Goodbye, Mr. Trump

    It is hard to escape the feeling that the fortunes of President Trump and the country took a decisive, and for Trump a fatal, turn May 9-10, when the president fired the director of the FBI over its investigation of Russian efforts to swing the presidential election to him and the very next day shared top-secret intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting closed except to a Kremlin press aide toting electronic gear to capture the intimate session for Russians but not Americans.
    • May 18, 2017
  • McCain is right

    Who knew that the crusty old warmonger John McCain was both an earnest and eloquent defender of human rights, a cause that is in what we hope is only a momentary decline here and around the world?
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Underutilized waterway is a hidden gem in urban Little Rock

Event Calendar

« »

May

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Not leaders

    As soon as I saw the Notre Dame graduates walking out of their own commencement ceremony as Vice President Mike Pence began to speak, I thought, "Oh no, here we go again."

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • .... and having a beer with Gene Lyons, who gave the cutest clumsy curtsy before…

    • on May 27, 2017
  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • Are you saying Karl Marx has left the building? The New York Times denies it…

    • on May 27, 2017
  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • Yes, Lyon's thinks it is Fox Network that promotes the lies that the West has…

    • on May 26, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation