Wednesday, November 8, 2000

The Death Penalty

When I was younger, probably still in highschool, maybe college, I saw a
story on television which is just now resurfacing in my consciousness. I
don't remember the show, it could have been Alfred Hitchcock
, or The Twilight Zone or any of a crowd of others
which thrived on stories with a twist. Anyway, it went something like

A father discovers that his adult daughter has been brutally raped, so
severely that she has withdrawn and won't speak to anyone. He comes to
her at the emergency room in the hospital, watches her suffer in
anguish. Finally he resolves that he will do anything to help her,
avenge her, give her peace.

"If you can tell me who did it, I promise he will never hurt anyone
again." He speaks to her, and makes this promise, hoping to reach
her. Suddenly, she sits up, her eyes widen ever so slightly. In a dead
even voice she speaks. "That's him" she says.

"Who?" says the father, looking wildly at the milling doctors, patients,
visitors. "That's him" says the daughter, looking at a man leaving just
then. The father gives pursuit, follows the stranger into a parking
garage, and strangles him with his own hands. His fury at the violation
this stranger has wrought on his daughter is palpable, and the man is
unable to fight him. Soon he stops struggling. The father is horrified
at what he has done, but makes his way back to his daughter.

"I got him" says the father. "He won't ever bother you again."

After a pause, the daughter looks at her father, smiles. Then she seems
to lose concentration, her gaze attracted by movement behind her
father. He turns around to see what she is looking at. It is a doctor,
looking at a clipboard. He hears his daughter speak. "That's him" she

Okay, it was just a television show, but a story is not so far from a
parable. I have a five-year old daughter now, and I can identify with
that father more than ever before. But the point of the story is well
made. Death is final. Anger and fear can blind us to rational
decisions. If death is an appropriate punishment for a crime, can we be
certain that we will really exercise it wisely?

A black man who kills a white person is 11 times more likely to receive
the death penalty than a white man who kills a black person. And blacks
who kill blacks have even less to worry about.

Between 1973 and 1993, at least 48 people on death row were released
after they were found to be innocent, according to a Congressional
subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights.

In Texas in 1991, blacks made up 12 percent of the population, but 48
percent of the prison population and 55.5 percent of those on death row
are black.

Lifted wholesale from

"...Illinoisans have ample evidence that capital punishment is not being
administered properly - having seen a rash of cases in which inmates
sentenced to death have not only had their convictions overturned but
have been fully exonerated. The state came uncomfortably close to
executing innocent men. Other states have actually put people to death
despite grave doubts about their guilt."

-Chicago Tribune, 3 March 1997

Bush of course has an abysmal
on the death penalty, presiding willingly over at least 135 executions
including five retarded individuals during his service as Governor of
Texas. From the San Francisco Bay Guardian we learn that Al Gore is
little better:

BG: What do you think about the Republican governor of Illinois calling
a moratorium on the death penalty because there has been so much
evidence that innocent people are on death row?

AG: Well, I support the death penalty.

BG: Well, so does he.

AG: I understand, and I also understand that the high-profile cases that
have put a new spotlight on the error in capital convictions have put
this issue in a new light. In Illinois, I don't want to make a judgment
on what the circumstances are because I don't have the expertise.
Nationally, I would not be in favor of a moratorium. The "Hurricane"

BG: Are there people on death row elsewhere, or federal death row, who
are innocent? Isn't that something we should be worried about?

AG: I would hope not. But I'll tell you this: I think that any honest
and candid supporter of the death penalty has to acknowledge that that
support comes in spite of the fact that there will inevitably be some
mistakes. And that's a harsh concession to make, but I think it's the
only honest concession to make, and it should spur us to have
appreciation for habeas corpus, for the procedural safeguards for the
accused, and for the fairness that's a part of the American judicial
system and to resist efforts to take away the procedural safeguards.

BG: But what we've seen over the past few years from the courts and the
administration is an erosion, a decrease in the ability to file federal
habeas petitions. Does that bother you?

AG: I think that the pendulum swung so far in the direction of a flood
of habeas petitions that the decisions of some courts to weed out the
procedural abuses is justified.

This is one of a plethora of reasons why I voted for Ralph Nader...

MR. RUSSERT: Are you in favor of the death penalty?

MR. NADER: Since I was a law student at Harvard, I have been against the
death penalty. It does not deter. It is severely discriminatory against
minorities, especially since they're given no competent legal counsel
defense in many cases. It's a system that has to be perfect. You cannot
execute one innocent person. No system is perfect. And to top it off, for
those of you who are interested in the economics of it, it costs more to
pursue a capital case toward execution than it does to have full life
imprisonment without parole.

Ralph Nader on Meet the Press, Sunday June 25 2000

...rather than either of the candidates 'most likely to win'. When I say I
voted my conscience, it's not just some hand-wavy sort of vague eco-nazi
left-liberal wacko fuzzy opinion. I really thought about it, and made a
deliberate choice. Oops.

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