Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Death At Death's Door

It's hard for me to accept what happened in OK last night. It's even harder to hear what people are saying about it.

Clayton Lockett committed a violent, horrible crime. No one denies this. He admitted it.

And he was sentenced to death. In my estimation, he deserved it, too.

What he didn't deserve was: 1) the way we administer capital punishment in the US; 2) the cocktail used in OK; and 3) the ultimate means by which he died.

Let's set some ground rules about the discussion of capital punishment. First, I don't think many would argue there are some crimes so heinous that death is the best -- most just -- response. (If your conscience sways you otherwise, I have no problem with that as it is your right to work to that end as part of the national policy.)

Second, there is zero argument that there is a racial and economic disparity in America over who gets tried, convicted and sentenced as part of a death penalty case. So if you're poor or a minority, you're pretty much gonna rank at the bottom of the Justice Ladder under, say, a Wall Street banker that nearly caused the world's economic system to collapse by taking advantage of unsophisticated investors with complex and dangerously-flawed products designed solely to make money for the bank and -- eventually -- rip everyone else. As of today, not a single person has been charged for that, something that killed real livelihoods, real dreams, real families, real jobs and in some cases real people that killed themselves or delayed medical care to the point of harm. But, hey, the Apostle James warned us of the wealthy who take advantage of the poor for personal gain under the guise of good business.

So, while I have no problem with the death penalty being just, I do have a problem when it looks like most of the people who receive the ultimate sentence do so because of something as arbitrary as race and money. Yes, money talks and money buys privilege but our system should not give the completely obvious appearance of such an evil. Sadly, it does.

What bothered me about the OK event was the way in which Lockett died. It was a cocktail solution that didn't kill him: it tortured him. It was inhumane.

So? He is an animal! He deserved it!
A bullet would have been cheaper and quicker!
What about the victim? He should have died as she died!
Who cares? He was sentenced to die and this will be a message to criminals!

All of those responses sadden me. As a human being, I really cannot imagine that a human being will feel that way as a matter of policy. Yes, I would be angry to the point of wanting to kill the guy myself had it been my daughter, but that wouldn't make my feelings right. As a matter of policy, I have to think beyond myself.

See, I know that we make mistakes. We get the wrong guy. Our prejudices get in the way. Innocent people are often convicted. Death is the ultimate means of depriving someone of liberty and we don't do that lightly.

That is why the process is set up to take a long, long time: mistakes here are more than an oopsie and can't be fixed with an apology and money.

But in the end, we are better than the way Lockett died. Our society cannot prostitute its soul on the altar of revenge, applauding such an awful way for someone to die. We have to maintain humanity even for inhumane crimes. We have to be kind even in the unkind act of administering death. We have to act morally no matter what.

We cannot. We cannot become the very thing we find repugnant in the criminal.

We are better than that. We have to be.

We just have to be.

Botched Execution - CBS News

The Horrific Crime - The Mirror (UK)

Questions About the Execution - NPR News

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