Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Coming in from the Cold in the Height of the Summer

It is the height of the summer, and I find myself coming in from the cold tonight.  

Yesterday, the state of Florida executed John Fergusen, a man deemed clinically and legally insane who has a long history of paranoid delusions and schizophrenia.  Apparently, our constitution, its amendments, particularly the eighth, and its own legal precedents meant nothing to the Supreme Court.  You can read more about the legal precedence for not executing the mentally insane or incompetent in Andrew Cohen's article in the Atlantic yesterday here: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/08/on-the-death-of-john-ferguson/278382/

I was so disturbed by the fact that not one Justice dissented that I could hardly sleep.  I'm not sure how the lawyers and justices whose (in)action(s) resulted in the death of a mentally ill human being can sleep at night.  I felt hot all over, and had a big bowl of frozen yogurt to cool me down.  I was too hot to write.  I cooled some today, but I didn't want to chill for too long.

There are many reasons I am opposed to capital punishment.  It is ineffective as a deterrent for crime, it is more expensive than imprisoning someone for life, it is applied unequally based on race and social class, it is used as a political tool for the election of prosecutors and judges, and it is questionable whether it brings peace to the victims of families.  In many cases, the evidence is not clear (see for example, Troy Davis and Leo Jones).  Convictions are typically reached because defendants have incompetent and/or overworked and underpaid defense attorneys and are the victims of morally questionable and overzealous prosecutors who care only about winning and not about getting it right.  In some cases, the evidence is clear regarding who is guilty but the penalty is questionable because there are racial dynamics that affect the penalty phase of trials.  You can read more about these and other death penalty facts here: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/FactSheet.pdf

More importantly, I am morally opposed to the death penalty.  I am morally opposed because it is hypocritical to murder someone for the crime of murder.  I am also morally opposed because of the untold human cost of taking the life of another person, even a person who is unquestionably guilty.  John Fergusen murdered several people.  There is no doubt.  There is also no doubt he was insane.  He had friends and family members, none of whom did anything to deserve the grief that comes with knowing the exact moment the state kills their loved one and the lasting effects that process has on the rest of their life.  He had lawyers and investigators who fought for his life to no avail because they are also opposed to state sanctioned killing. I cannot imagine the toll it takes to lose a case like that.

I also think of all of the people who have to carry out their actions in order for the death penalty to be administered--the corrections officers who have to walk the condemned to his final cell and the "death room," the "killing floor," the cook who has to cook the condemned's last meal, the people who administer the deadly cocktail, the health care professionals who monitor the "death process," the people in the viewing room during the execution.  I cringe at the thought of carrying out any of these actions.  What kind of world do we live in that people want to be involved in this process?  Are these the acts of a civil democratic society?  Is this justice for the victims' family?  I cannot be the only judge in answering these questions, of course, but I need to raise the questions.  And, so I do.


I am thankful for my friends Juan Melendez and Rosa, two people who are working tirelessly to overturn death sentences and the death penalty itself even against overwhelming support for this policy.

Today, I mourn the murder of a murderer, but at least I'm coming in from the cold.

Would you let the system make you kill your brotherman?
No, no, no, no, no!  No, dread, no!
Would you make the system make you kill your brotherman?
No, dread, no!
Would you make the system get inside your head again?
No, dread, no!
Well, the biggest man you ever did see was, was just a baby.

In this life (in this life), in this life (in this life, oh sweet life)
Coming in from the cold.




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