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Can you hear that? That's me, howling. It's not complicated why. Last night I started to write a blog post, in fact, this blog post. I had maybe 500 words typed into the box and then I moved the mouse and the next thing I knew, poof, there was nada, zilch, nothing. All gone. Totally vaporized. That's when I started howling. I continue even now.

The blog post, well, this blog post is/was about state killing. There have been two horrendous, macabre executions in the last weeks. Let me briefly recall them for you before I move on to what I think might be my point.

First, Virginia killed Therese Lewis. Lewis, you will recall, has an IQ of 72. She didn't pull the trigger in the double murder for which she was executed. The two men who were triggermen got life. They, as far as I can tell, were not developmentally disabled. Therese Lewis's crack trial lawyers had her plead guilty to a capital murder (the DA never committed to taking the death penalty off the table). Then, believing that a judge would give her life and not order her to be killed (again I don't know why they thought that), they gave up her right to a jury on the punishment phase. And guess what? The judge decided that even though she had an IQ of 72 (it's not clear that the judge knew this) she should die by lethal injection. Governor McDonnell, harking back to Bill Clinton's execution of Ricky Lee Rexford 18 years ago, denied her clemency. Virginia killed her. This, I said, wasn't justice. If it was, the law is an ass.

Then, Georgia killed Brandon Rhode. Talk about setting new levels of macabre. Rhode decided to kill himself, using a razor, on the eve of his scheduled lethal injection. He cut his throat and his arms. He almost killed himself, but alas, Georgia would have none of that. Only the state, in Georgia's view, could kill him. So they sewed him up, and restrained him, and added security, and then, last night, they killed him. Let's review. Rhode had no regard for the lives of the three victims, two of whom were children. He had no regard for his own life, which he tried to take. And Georgia had no regard for his life, and by killing him our names, they reduced us to his level, the level of people who don't think life is important.

These two executions right next to each other raise all of the usual reasons why state killing is barbaric. And should be abolished. There's nothing new in them. Not really. The state kills its most marginalized members out of proportion to their population numbers: the poor, people of color, immigrants, the developmentally disabled (who can test to higher than 70 IQ), the mentally ill, GLBT people. The state claims that the killings deter other killings. The statistics don't bear this out. But that means that the state thinks that somebody with an IQ of 72 is able to figure out whether what she's doing amounts to capital murder. Or doesn't. And, of course, there's the age old revenge reason for killing killers. An eye for an eye might make the whole world blind, but the logic of that doesn't eclipse the state's determination to kill.

No, there's nothing new. But I've been haunted by two ideas this week that for some reason hadn't occurred to me before. First, maybe we should be conceptualizing state killing as if it were a vestige of pre-Colombian human sacrifice. It's a lot like what Montezuma, for example, did. You capture people, you confine them, you feed them and take care of them. And then, after time goes by, when the need arises to pacify the gods, to make supplication for rain, or a crop, or prosperity, or fertility, you take the appropriate number of prisoners, and you ritually kill them.

The Aztecs had temples and furniture and plates and altars designed for this killing. Cortez was horrified when he arrived and saw the racks of skulls. Now we don't have anything quite as grizzly. Now we do it with medical trappings: a gurney, an injection, the person tied down to the table. It's all very neat and quite bloodless. But it's still killing. And it has a late 20th century sterility to it. Maybe state killing should be seen as a last vestige of human sacrifice.

Don't like that idea? Don't want to be associated with that kind of barbarism? That kind of lack of regard for the value of human life? Don't want own the savagery of state killing?

Then there's the other idea that's bothering me. The Thirteenth Amendment ended chattel slavery in the United States, except as punishment for a crime. The Constitution has the very 18th Century conception in it that convicts are the slaves of the state. Now remember that when this lingo was written down, there was in fact slavery in the US. The people who wrote this understood precisely what was involved in slavery. And when slaves rebelled, or refused to do what their owners demanded, what happened to them? They were imprisoned and beaten. Were they also killed? Of course. Is being killed by the slave holder for something you did a "badge of slavery"? So is it possible then to see state killing as the transfer of the power of life and death from private slaveholders (who could no longer hold slaves) to the state, the only ones permitted in the US to hold slaves? And is this revenge killing, now with lethal injections, just a continuation of slavery? Yes, I know. It's all dressed up now, with medical instruments, and special rooms, and nice courthouses with walnut paneling, and judges wearing robes. But in essence, how close is it to the continuation of the prerogatives of the slave holder?

What's the difference between state killing and lynching? The difference, if it is one, is that state killing is supposedly based on a fair trial. Lynching doesn't have any process other than violence. If a person's trial is grotesquely inadequate and she is convicted of capital murder and executed, the distinction between lynching and state killing is illusory. Put another way, what are the real differences in Georgia's killing Brandon Rhode and Georgia's lynching Leo Frank?

I remain mortified by state killing. This week has been a pinnacle of ugliness. The only saving grace is that California's moratorium continued this week because of a judicial ruling. And because they ran out of a chemical they need to kill. They won't have the chemical again in sufficient quantity for about 18 months.  So they won't be able to kill anybody for a while, no matter how much they want to, or think the old gods require it.

cross posted from The Dream Antilles and docuDharma and The Stars Hollow Gazette

Originally posted to davidseth on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 05:42 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I agree but I have one serious question (0+ / 0-)

    What would you have done with Hitler?

    We've got to fight their millions of dollars with our millions of voices. - Pres. Barack Obama

    by RhodaA on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 05:50:27 PM PDT

    •  Would be a "state" killing, I guess is the answer (0+ / 0-)

      We've got to fight their millions of dollars with our millions of voices. - Pres. Barack Obama

      by RhodaA on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 05:51:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That's a serious question? (10+ / 0-)

      I oppose state killing in all cases.   Hitler has absolutely nothing to do with the criminal justice system in the US and its proclivity for killing its most marginalized, disenfranchised members.

      •  I was talking about (0+ / 0-)

        the death penalty in an absolute sense. It's something I've always thought about.

        We've got to fight their millions of dollars with our millions of voices. - Pres. Barack Obama

        by RhodaA on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 05:56:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  That level of abstraction is too remote (9+ / 0-)

          to deal with what I'm talking about.

          I am absolutely opposed to state killing in all cases.  I don't think that there is anyone who has to be killed, and I resist the idea that imprisonment for a very long time is not an adequate response to murder.

          •  Ok, thanks (0+ / 0-)

            I see what you mean. And it's very important to differentiate between state and federal.

            We've got to fight their millions of dollars with our millions of voices. - Pres. Barack Obama

            by RhodaA on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 06:12:49 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  While I agree at a pragmatic level (0+ / 0-)

            And I certainly think that imprisonment is plenty for a mere murder -- I have come to suspect that there are occasionally people who are simply too dangerous to be kept imprisoned rather than executed.  

            If you've got a leader with a giant following -- one who would most likely become an even bigger hero in jail and one who is actually likely to be broken out of jail -- well, let's just say that I understand why Charles I of England, Louis XVI (?) of France, and the last Tsar of Russia were executed.

            I was going to say there wasn't a US example, but there was.  The pardoning of the Confederates after the Civil War was a disaster, and led to monsters like Nathan Bedford Forrest founding the KKK.  Now could these people have been kept in prison for life?  Perhaps.  But I'm not at all sure they wouldn't have been broken out.

            -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

            by neroden on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 11:55:30 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Why don't you (0+ / 0-)

          tell us what you would have done with Hitler.

        •  would you, could you be the first to (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dharmafarmer, davidseth

          cast the stone?

          if we are so keen on "state" or "sanctioned" killing, then let's do it in the public square - and make it grisly - that is a deterent? (not).

          but why hide the deed - publicize it - make it mandatory for school children to attend.  make everyone pick up a rock and take aim.

          if you believe that murder is justified, then stand by that belief and don't ask another to throw your stone for you.

          that is my philosophical belief... along with... there is NEVER any justification to deliberately kill another.  ever.

          MOVE'EM UP! ROLL'EM OUT... MOVE'EM UP RAWHIDE!!! meeeoooow! mrraaarrr!! meeeOOOOOW!

          by edrie on Thu Sep 30, 2010 at 01:47:12 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  life imprisonment. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dharmafarmer, davidseth, greywolfe359

      killing is wrong, no matter WHO does it.

      how do you teach a child that it is immoral to kill, then kill in the name of the state.

      hitler, daumer, mcveigh - any of the worst you can envision - life imprisonment with no chance EVER for release.

      then there will be true consequences.

      MOVE'EM UP! ROLL'EM OUT... MOVE'EM UP RAWHIDE!!! meeeoooow! mrraaarrr!! meeeOOOOOW!

      by edrie on Thu Sep 30, 2010 at 01:44:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  David,what (0+ / 0-)

    would you say to Dr.William Petit?

  •  the death penalty (9+ / 0-)

    is state-sanctioned, cold-blooded murder.

    i wouldn't flip the switch and i won't ask anyone to do it for me.

    Die with your boots on. Gonna try? Well stick around. Gonna cry? Just move along. The truth of all predictions is always in your hands. - Iron Maiden

    by Cedwyn on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 06:35:44 PM PDT

  •  I agree with you david. (7+ / 0-)

    The idea of killing to prevent killing is insane and degrades our society with every execution. I've been against the death penalty for as long as I can remember. I just can't make sense out of it.

    "Take it back, take it back. Oh no you can't say that, all of my friends are not dead or in jail." John Prine

    by high uintas on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 07:06:51 PM PDT

  •  How do you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    feel about life without parole?dr Petit wants to see these men die.

    •  I really feel for Dr. Petit. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      davidseth, Situational Lefty

      What horrendous loss he has suffered, and in such a horrific way! He's in a really dark place wanting to see more people die, though.  That doesn't give him much separation from the mindset of the killers who wanted to see his family die. That's really very uncomfortably close, in fact.

      I read a quote from his sister that captured the truth of the situation: "the pain will never end."  People who are surviving victims of violent crime rarely feel anything even remotely resembling closure when their tormentors are executed. The loss is always there. I hope for Dr. Petit that he can find his way out of that dark place and find a healing, constructive way to honor the lives of his loved ones.

      What you believe determines what you can observe. Einstein

      by dharmafarmer on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 08:37:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Mixed feelings (0+ / 0-)

    My theory is that killing Tim McVeigh made a few Militia Members think twice about committing their hate crimes.

    Randy Kraft should go, too.  He killed more gays than the death penalty ever will.

  •  I say bring back old sparky.... (0+ / 0-)

    Not even considering the harm someone serving life( with nothing left to lose) may do to a fellow prisoner or guard...these monsters need to die. The scumbags that killed UNC President Eve Carson just got life and were spared the death penalty....disgusting if you know the facts of the case.. Take it from someone that knows, prison isn't the worst place in the world, I'm sure all those starving in Africa would love three hots and a cot and the oppurtunity to spend the rest of their lives kickin back not working, but playing cards, watching TV, playing basketball in the yard etc... With all the social injustices in the world and the many problems facing this nation I cannot fathom how so many of you dedicate anytime or passion to this particular cause. What's wrong with you people?

    •  It is (5+ / 0-)

      opinions like yours that make it imperative that the State, being the governmental entity responsible for meting out punishment, not allow popular opinion to outweigh reason. When the State can kill, the State may stop at nothing to kill. It is an easy slide down a slope where people are killed without proper evidence and fair trials. That is proven almost daily where people on death rows all over the world are found to be innocent, INNOCENT, because of new evidence or the use of new technology. How many INNOCENT people are you willing to overlook so that your "monsters who need to die" are done in by the very government installed to prevent miscarriages of justice? What, in short, is wrong with YOU?

    •  Anyone who thinks (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      davidseth, Oh Mary Oh

      life without parole isn't sufficient punishment, doesn't sufficiently value freedom, imo.

      What you believe determines what you can observe. Einstein

      by dharmafarmer on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 10:57:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hey, state killing's better than gov't murder (0+ / 0-)

    Now police officers just invade homes with the wrong address, murder the inhabitants, and they get away with it.  Or they taser old ladies to death, and get away with it.  

    Meanwhile, the feds claim the right to issue assassination orders; they continue to claim that there was nothing wrong with kidnapping and torturing an innocent computer programmer.

    Frankly, the death penalty is civilized compared to our government.  So were the Aztecs.

    -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

    by neroden on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 11:49:28 PM PDT

  •  Re Dr. Petit (0+ / 0-)

    The difference between Dr.Petit and Those men is this.His family did nothing to those men,those men wiped out  his family.I think to  say there is no difference is wrong.

    •  Well, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      davidseth, greywolfe359

      that makes it all about revenge then, which doesn't say much about us as a society. Revenge only brings us down to the level of the perpetrators because we seek "like-action" against them.  It diminishes us spiritually and psychologically and, in effect, it creates more victims of the crime.

      Why allow violent criminals to have that kind of power over us?  We can do much better than this in coping with violent crime.

      What you believe determines what you can observe. Einstein

      by dharmafarmer on Thu Sep 30, 2010 at 11:15:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  On capital punishment and human sacrifice (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There is an article by a scholar named Brian K. Smith on this very topic.  I referenced it when I wrote my senior thesis in college.  I don't remember the name of it nor could I find a link, but it's out there somewhere.

    "What is essential is invisible to the eye."

    by greywolfe359 on Thu Sep 30, 2010 at 08:42:27 PM PDT

  •  Great diary, so sad this isn't even an "issue" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    anymore.  When is the last time you really heard a good, honest debate about it between major political figures?

    While I think the state has the right to kill "in self-defense" and in pursuit of a criminal who is resisting arrest (violently) or in the prosecution of a "just war", I just cannot see any justification for killing a subdued, defenseless human being.  I don't see how anyone CAN go through with and commit that act.  And I don't see how we hope to teach people it's wrong to kill people by...killing people.

    "What is essential is invisible to the eye."

    by greywolfe359 on Thu Sep 30, 2010 at 08:47:03 PM PDT

  •  Beautifully written piece (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    on a horrible thing we do.

    "Now that I have a disease that doesn't exist, nothing surprises me." --John commenting on LymePolicyWonk 8/4/10

    by MsGrin on Thu Sep 30, 2010 at 09:46:22 PM PDT

  •  It's logical. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    First of all, the deprivation of rights under cover of law has been with us since the founding of the nation.  Despite the commitment to natural or God-given human rights, right from the start, some humans were legally deprived of their right to ambulate and associate with whomever they liked as a consequence of having been captured, sold and owned.  Ownership trumped human rights and, considering the U.S. failure to recognize the rights of the child, still does.  
    Secondly, because men are entitled to their rights by mother nature or their creator, the deprivation of rights should, ideally, be restricted to punishment for obvious and proven criminal behavior.  But, since the deprivation, whether in the name of the national interest or national security or moral suasion, is pervasive, deprivation as punishment for crime is rendered ineffective.  When a man is near starving, then a sentence to a bread and water diet is not punishment.
    Deprivation of rights under cover of law as a punishment for crime (the unlawful deprivation of another's rights) has been hijacked to serve as an instrument of pervasive subjugation to serve the interests of the power addicted.  And, just to drive the message home, from time to time, in case there's some inclination to resist the deprivation, the occasional killing of a few worthless individuals serves as a reminder to the living that "it could be worse."
    Also, in reserving the right to kill humans to the nation and/or the several states, we affirm the preeminence of the nation, an ideal or figment of the imagination, as sovereign to the natural person.  It's an assertion that what man has created/imagined, the artifice we refer to as the corporation (public and private) is more important than the natural person.  We haven't heard much railing against humanists lately, but the anti-human sentiments are still with us, at base.

    People who hate people also hate themselves.  Why is unclear.  What's certain is that people who don't love themselves can't be expected to love other people.  Some of Jesus' assumptions were obviously wishful thinking.  Not all ideals are achievable and some, like the nation, are downright evil.

    The Constitution is not a menu for an exclusive diner.

    by hannah on Thu Sep 30, 2010 at 11:18:06 PM PDT

    •  Interesting comment, hannah (0+ / 0-)

      I read many of your comments here and, while I don't always comment in return, I wanted to say that I think your comments are valuable to the community - you always offer a thoughtful perspective.

      Your comment reminds me of a paper I read recently by Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, titled What Politicians Don't Say About the High Costs of the Death Penalty.  He concludes that, "[t]he death penalty not only fails as a solution to the problem of violence in the United States but, because of the excessive costs of implementation, capital punishment interferes with a spectrum of preventive programs that have been demonstrated to work well."

      If the interest of the state regarding the death penalty is subjugation to preserve its power, as you convincingly suggest, then I think in hard economic times the state might be most susceptible to arguments against the death penalty that involve cost. Ultimately, money is the vehicle that allows the state to exert its power and, while I'd much prefer the law to be changed on moral impetus, if cost is the argument that works, we should make that case.  I highly doubt we'd get the preventive programs that Mr. Dieter speaks about as a result of any cost savings to the state, but, at least, we'd be rid of an unconscionable law.

      What you believe determines what you can observe. Einstein

      by dharmafarmer on Fri Oct 01, 2010 at 03:49:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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