There is something odious about a country proclaiming itself Christian and continuing to seek to stamp out violent crime by imposing the death penalty. And that country, of course, is the United States.
And of course, in a country in which the 'how' is much more important that the 'what' of their collective public decisions, the United States makes a substantial commitment to finding various and sundry methods for completing the task of putting people to death, following evidence and conviction of violent crime.
It is as if the violence that attended the crime is inextricably linked to the violence of the state's pursuit of vengeance, and then, to make it palatable to that segment of the population who both trusts and complies with the state's every decision, paint those executions with a brush of efficiency and effectiveness that would pass muster in an operating room.
With many pharmaceutical companies having bowed out of providing lethal chemicals, the various states still engaged in the practice of capital punishment (some 38 out of the 50 states), now look to compounding chemical companies to deliver the cocktail that will efficiently and effectively inflict the lethal dose of chemicals to "humanely" achieve the goal of death.
If that does not sound like a mouthful of incompatible words, irreconcilable in both the details of the chemistry and the attitudes behind the laws and the history of law enforcement, then what would?
How we treat 'the least' in our society, including the 'criminals' and especially the most violent of those men (and of course the large majority of violent crimes are committed by men), would, perhaps, be considered a litmus test for how a society really operates. It might generate discussion about the role of the public (the state) in the individual lives of the people, including intimate engagement with those conditions which might generate so much anger, hate and desperation that only violent release of that internal 'cocktail' of human emotions (embedded in their own river of hormones). It also might serve as a public model for attitudes and behaviours that would be both sustainable and compatible with compassion, empathy, and a vigorous pursuit of all alternatives in the amelioration of those conditions in which crime is spawned, and less emphasis on the killing formulas through which vengeance might be pursued.
This discussion arises because of the botched execution of a man in Oklahoma last night, and research, found in the Daily Beast, in one of the best pieces of reporting on the subject I have read that brings the issue, not only of the 'how' but also of the 'why' of state executions, to the fore.
We have, in this space for years, taken the position that all capital punishment is wrong.
We continue to hold that view, and seek to promote discussion among others whose minds could and might be changed from supporting that method of crime prevention (it has been proven repeatedly NOT to be a restraint on additional crimes) to support for its abolition.
After you read the excerpt here from the Daily Beast, reflect on your own attitudes and perceptions about capital punishment, through the lens of the United States' experience and consider ways to influence the debate in the direction of abolition.
Last night the state of Oklahoma added to America’s long history of botched executions when it attempted to execute Clayton Derrell Lockett by lethal injection. At 6.23 p.m., a doctor administered the first drug, which corrections officials identified as the sedative midazolam. What followed was an agonizing spectacle that ended when Lockett died at 7.06 p.m.—43 minutes after the drugs began to flow....
From the end of the 19th century to the present day, the United States has actively tried to find new ways to avoid such mishaps and impose death without unnecessary pain of the kind seen most recently when lethal injections go wrong. The continuing search for an execution method that would prove unfailingly humane and civilized has helped assuage the sensibilities of the American public and to emphatically set capital punishment apart from the heinous crimes it is thought to condemn. Through successive changes in methods of execution, from hanging to electrocution, from the gas chamber to lethal injection, the U.S. has struggled to make the practice of capital punishment appear peaceful and precise and transform execution from dramatic spectacle to a cool, bureaucratic operation.
But we have found no technology which could reliably and effectively achieve this goal. We have sent condemned criminals to the gallows, executed them by firing squad, electrocution, lethal gas, or using a cocktail of deadly chemicals. Each of these methods of execution was, at the time of its introduction, said to be able reliably to impose death without the unnecessary suffering condemned by the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” None has delivered on that promise.
In recently completed research, we and our collaborators examined all American executions from 1890-2010. We found that 3 percent of those executions were botched in one way or another, from the slow strangulations and decapitations that occasionally occurred during hangings to the smoke and burning flesh of the electric chair to the agonizing death throes of those strapped to gurneys in lethal injection chambers. In fact, executions by lethal injection are botched at a higher rate than any of the other methods employed since the late 19th century, 7 percent.
Botched executions have not been the particular plague of a handful of states or of a single inadequate technology. Rather, they have happened in every region of the country regardless of the frequency of executions carried out. And each and every method of execution has its distinctive flaws, which frequently have been compounded by malfeasance or simple human error.
In the hours and days following executions gone wrong, the public gets a rare look beyond the image of highly controlled, efficient, and dignified executions that the government seeks to project. But, all too often, the initial wave of shock and horror soon gives way to resignation and the tendency to dismiss botched executions as mere accidents.
But history teaches a different lesson. Botched executions are neither freak occurrences nor unfortunate accidents. Rather, like the errors that occur when innocent people are sentenced to death, they are an inherent and unavoidable part of the system of capital punishment in the United States.