So, here’s what David Powell–the man the state of Texas will kill in Huntsville on June 15th–has me thinking about today.
If the death penalty is merely another form of justice that the state metes out; just another means of punishment that the American judicial system has at its disposal, then why can’t we SEE it?
I mean, it makes sense that we can’t WATCH people doing time in prison–because a key element of a prisoner’s punishment is his or her isolation from the world.
But other things–like community service, for instance–you can absolutely see. In fact, a key element of the punishment of community service is that it’s SO public. The experience is meant to shame you. That’s one of the reasons they make you wear that horrible orange track suit, and pick up garbage on the side of the road, rather than, say, work in a recycling plant. Because the whole situation’s intended to be so completely mortifying that you’ll never land yourself on the wrong side of the law ever again.
Likewise, the death penalty, as a form of punishment, is intended to prevent folks from killing each other.
Now, this is an extremely dubious concept that people argue back and forth about all the time. Because in a situation like David Powell’s, for instance–who was high as a kite on the night he committed murder thirty-two years ago–the idea of the death penalty as a crime deterrent certainly doesn’t hold water. Because you can’t tell me that screwed-up kids aren’t going to get hooked on drugs, and then commit violent crimes, all because they happen to live in a state with a death penalty.
But even though I don’t buy the concept of the death penalty as a crime deterrent, lots of other people do. So, here’s my question. If it’s meant to deter crime, like making people pick up garbage on the side of the road, then why is it hidden away from the public eye?
Why don’t we have public executions, like most of the other countries that kill large numbers of their own citizens every year? You know, wonderful, progressive democracies like Yemen and Saudi Arabia and Iran and Iraq.
Why don’t we behead people in public, like they do in Saudi Arabia?
Why don’t we televise executions, and put them on the evening news?
If the death penalty is meant to deter crime, then why don’t we really publicize it?
And if the reason for not televising it is because to do so would be uncivilized, and grotesque, and barbaric, then boy, that’s really something to consider.
Because how could witnessing the administration of justice be barbaric, if the means of administering that justice is not?
I mean, don’t tell me that we’re trying to protect the privacy of the people being executed. Because believe me, under the circumstances, they’ve got bigger fish to fry.
And don’t tell me that we’re trying to protect the privacy of the families of murder victims, because I think that many of them would be totally in favor of publicly executing their loved ones’ killers.
Actually, while the prospect of public beheadings in places like Saudi Arabia might sound incredibly distasteful, I think their version of the death penalty might possess a higher level of integrity than ours. After all, it’s all out in the open, isn’t it? All a matter of public knowledge.
Unlike our system–where prisoners are done away with during secret ceremonies, often under the cover of nightfall, behind high prison walls, by anonymous employees of the state.
I mean, I’m serious as a heart attack, folks. Why is it appropriate for our government to perform any punishment on large numbers of its own citizens that, as a matter of general policy, we can’t witness?
I mean, so long as we’re proud of what our government is doing, and all. So long as we believe that the death penalty is a fair and civilized form of administering justice.
And in the meantime, David Powell–who, thirty-two years ago, murdered Ralph Ablanedo, a police officer, husband, and father of two small children–has seven days left to live, before he’s poisoned to death by the state of Texas.
And here’s a clip from a movie about David:
And here’s a website devoted to David’s case: http://www.letdavidlive.org/
And here’s a link to Amnesty International’s clemency campaign on David’s behalf: http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/index.aspx?c=jhKPIXPCIoE&b=2590179&template=x.ascx&action=14311