Today is Monday. Tomorrow evening, the state plans to poison David Powell to death.
And whether you’re in favor of poisoning David Powell for the murder of Ralph Ablanedo, or you’re not in favor of poisoning David Powell, his death has to be a big deal.
Not for the sake of Marjorie Powell, the lady who woke up this morning knowing that her son had one day to live.
And not for the Ablanedo family, who lost a beloved husband and father and son, and whose grief is something I can’t even begin to imagine.
And not even for David Powell, no matter how you might feel about him.
We’ve got to make sure that the fact the state is poisoning somebody tomorrow stays a big deal FOR US. For the sake of our own humanity. Because we can’t allow ourselves to become people who look the other way when we know for certain that somebody is being killed. Because it makes us less good.
Now, are you ready to slap me yet, for being such a Girl Scout? Well, I wouldn’t blame you. Same old bleeding-heart bullshit, you might be thinking.
Because, as you might be thinking, David Powell sure didn’t stop to think about the preciousness of human life on that night thirty-two years ago when he shot a cop with an AK-47.
And even though I might answer you by saying that David Powell was a screwed-up kid, high as a kite on methamphetamines on the night he killed Ralph Ablanedo thirty-two years ago, and that, consequently, he wasn’t thinking many coherent thoughts at the time, I would, nevertheless, still have to agree with you, and admit that David Powell was not busily meditating on the value of human life on that tragic night he killed a cop.
But, I would also have to say that if we allow ourselves to live under a government that is killing people at a rate that has no precedent in any democracy, and we don’t even stop to pay any attention to it–whether we agree with it or not–then it’s our collective, moral tragedy. And that it degrades our humanity.
Because it’s the governement’s job to encourage goodness in its people–and since we live in a democracy, that means it’s OUR job. Now, what do I mean by “encouraging goodness?” Well, I have to admit that I don’t rightly know. But I suppose I mean that the government should promote an attitude consistent with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence when it talks about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I suppose I mean that the government should not actively encourage its people’s baser instincts, like greed and hatred and lust. And by lust, I also mean blood-lust.
Now, you may believe in the death penalty. You may feel that the death penalty is consistent with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, and that it does encourage goodness among people, because you may feel that it discourages them from committing violent crime.
Well, I don’t agree with you–but, at this point, the Supreme Court does. And the governor certainly does. And many fine, fine folks all across the state agree with you, too.
And who knows, maybe I’m completely wrong about the death penalty.
But here’s something I know I’m not wrong about, because I have evidence for it. While the death penalty may, or may not, be a humane form of justice for people who’ve committed unspeakably evil acts, the fact of the death penalty, its very existence, actively enrourages the basest, most bestial, most barbarous emotions in people. It encourages us to disregard the suffering of others. And it brutalizes us.
And here’s my evidence:
It’s a link to the gift-shop of the Texas Prison Museum, located in Huntsville, very near the Death Chamber. Now, at the Prison Museum, you can see many things. You can see, apparently, photo exhibits by folks against the death penalty, and you can also see “Ole Sparky,” the state’s retired electric chair.
Now, I printed this super-disgusting quote a few days ago–I found it on the Death Penalty Information Center’s website, from a 1994 article in “The Philadelphia Inquirer”–but just as a reminder, here’s what the electric chair actually did:
“The prisoner’s eyeballs sometimes pop out and rest on [his] cheeks. The prisoner often defecates, urinates, and vomits blood and drool. The body turns bright red as its temperature rises, and the prisoner’s flesh swells and his skin stretches to the point of breaking. Sometimes the prisoner catches fire….Witnesses hear a loud and sustained sound like bacon frying, and the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh permeates the chamber.”
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “So what? That’s super-disgusting, alright. But there’s a lot of super-disgusting stuff, housed in museums all over the world, that doesn’t ’degrade our humanity.’ I mean, look at Auschwitz, for Pete’s sake. Auschwitz is a museum now, too, and that fact doesn’t encourage the Germans to be brutal. Quite the opposite, actually. It serves as a reminder of, and a warning against, their former brutality.”
But, Auschwitz doesn’t repeat–with an undeniable, macabre civic pride–the Nazis’ cutesy names for their implements of death, if indeed they had any, as we do with our “Ole Sparky.”
And the Auschwitz gift-shop certainly doesn’t sell items that are in any way equivalent to: a shot-glass featuring an image of “Ole Sparky” in gold, and emblazoned with the legend, “Texas Prison Museum–Home of Ole Sparky”; or a cloth Death Row patch, appropriate for stitching onto a jacket, vest, or blazer; or a Death Row baseball cap.
Now, before I look too much like a humorless liberal, here, I want you to ask yourselves a series of questions. Would you, personally, stitch a “Death Row patch” onto the clothing of your little girl or boy? Or onto the onesie of your baby? If your mother was dying of cancer, would you want somebody sewing a Death Row patch onto her hospital gown? And would you invite your pastor over, and serve drinks out of an Ole Sparky shot-glass?
And if you had lost a daughter or son, or a mother or father–to a violent, hideous murder, or to a violent, hideous execution–would you find ANY of this at all amusing? And in what way would it promote the dignity of the life of your slain loved one?
I don’t know, folks. You can argue that the death penalty is justice, and that we ought to have one.
But you can’t have a death penalty without, finally, somebody, somewhere, toasting a drink out of an Ole Sparky shot-glass. And boy, I’d like to hear somebody argue how that encourages compassion, or social conscience, or a respect for the value of human life. And I thought that was supposed to be the point of the death penalty–that it was supposed to emphasize the value of human life.
And if that’s not the point of the death penalty, then how is it any different from any other form of premeditated murder?
Here’s a photograph of “The Death Chamber.”
And here’s a clip from a movie about David:
And here’s a website devoted to David’s case:
And here’s a link to the Texas Moratorium Network’s petition campaign on