I become an at-large board member for the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish The Death Penalty (OK-CADP) last night at its annual meeting to try to help end capital punishment not only in Oklahoma but also wherever it exists as a legally sanctioned punishment.
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty addressing the grand jury report on Oklahoma's executions pic.twitter.com/q0DuUnAAxi
— Phil Cross (@philsnews) May 20, 2016
I’ve been opposed to the death penalty my entire conscious life. Yet one current issue that certainly motivated me even more to join OK-CADP was Oklahoma’s recent botched application of the death penalty and one very close call, which, taken together, became a barbaric debacle, a debacle so intense that it could ironically serve down the road as a major or part of a legal reasoning for the U.S. Supreme Court to end capital punishment by judicial decree.
I’m referring to the recent botched lethal-injection executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner and the last-minute stays of execution for Richard Glossip. One stay for Glossip came just moments before the state was going to kill him because they didn’t have the appropriate drugs to carry it out.
All of this made national news, of course, and embarrassed the state. It was all outlined in a scathing grand jury report. One media outlet called it “an extended tragedy of errors” and another media outlet referred to in a headline as “ . . .Oklahoma’s Despicable Execution Program.” That’s an understatement.
— Sister Helen Prejean (@helenprejean) June 22, 2016
I will write more on Oklahoma’s despicable actions later in this post, but, first, I want everyone to think about the Tower of London, a castle that was used as a prison from 1100 to 1952. It was there, of course, where Anne Boleyn and others were beheaded for crimes they did or didn’t commit and where people were regularly tortured. I went there just last week while attending an academic conference in London, and there is a spot in the main grounds marking the place where the beheadings took place.
Many of us, perhaps even some people in favor of the death penalty, might look back at the beheadings—Boleyn was executed in 1536 supposedly for treason against Henry VIII—as barbaric and gruesome and bloody. I certainly feel the presence of barbarism in the place, and it sent chills through me. The Tower doesn’t represent the Western world at its finest unless your definition rests solely on architecture.
What motivates this type of legally sanction killing that stretches back far before Anne Boleyn was beheaded and continues to this day in places like Oklahoma and Texas? Eye for eye? A blood thirst built into the DNA of some people? A psychological defense or aggression mechanism we don’t fully understand?
What I know is that the death penalty mostly only repeats the barbaric violence committed by the person getting executed (if the person is guilty), and it repeats the cycle, and does nothing but serve to assuage the blood thirst embedded in so many of our political leaders and even a majority of voters in Oklahoma. That’s why it exists here: Blood thirst, which creates thrill in some people.
The death penalty does not deter crime. The death penalty is not less expensive than incarcerating someone for life in prison. The death penalty is obviously applied unfairly to minorities.
Perhaps, most importantly of all, innocent people have been killed to feed the blood thirst. Amnesty International points out 140 people have been released from death row because of wrongful conviction since 1973. Since 1973, more than 1,200 people have been executed. The math shows the problem. No one can be 100 percent entirely certain that innocent people are NOT getting killed. That uncertainty itself is a reason to end the death penalty.
Here’s the Amnesty International fact sheet on the death penalty.
Currently, Oklahoma has a moratorium on the death penalty as it reviews its lethal injection policies or protocols, and that moratorium is a good thing, but Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has indicated he will start the killing again. Some pharmaceutical companies are refusing to sell drugs used in lethal injection, and that’s a good thing, too.
But then there’s State Question 776, which would essentially allow any method of execution in the state of Oklahoma. Here’s the legal information about the question. It was placed on the ballot in the upcoming November election after legislators voted overwhelmingly to do so. It’s most likely unconstitutional, and, if passed, will cost the state in legal fees. But the message it sends is overwhelmingly horrific. SQ 776 should be defeated. What person of conscience can vote for this wide-sweeping and cruel measure, which essentially says the state can kill someone however it wants as long as it doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution?
Let’s also remember that Richard Glossip, who didn’t physically kill anyone, still sits in prison. I wrote extensively about his case, and here’s one such post. As I wrote:
In the end, it pretty much comes down to the word of someone who admits beating a man to death and had a stark vested interest to implicate another person in the death to save his own life. Rationality, not the law, tells us that in this case it seems prudent to act cautiously and not kill Richard Glossip, who didn’t physically kill another person, who has never been accused of physically killing another person and who has maintained his innocence for 18 years.
Even more inmates await their executions as well in Oklahoma.
Gruesome Oklahoma executions, Glossip’s cruel treatment, SQ 776, The Tower, taken together they embody all the cruelty and blood thirst in the human condition. I feel deep sympathy for the families and friends of people killed in crimes, some of which are horrifically brutal and mind-bogglingly cruel in scope. But more killing is never the answer. It’s just another killing, which leads to more killing. Incarceration and rehabilitation remain the answers.
My pragmatic hope is that we can go the rest of this year without an execution in Oklahoma, a state known throughout the world for its high rate of applying the death penalty. My loftier hope, as more states stop using the death penalty because of its warped logic and brutality, is that this country will end it forever. The U.S. Supreme Court will probably have to make that happen.
(Please consider joining and/or contributing to OK-CADP.)