Dead Certain

For the past 25 years, executions have taken place somewhere in America almost every week. They happened in the dead of night. Most people didn't know about them, and most who did know were glad. It was a settled question. In America, unlucky murderers get killed. The lucky ones do time, and the extremely lucky ones go back to the golf course. Of course, in America, luck equals wealth. We decided that one a long time ago, too.

Throughout those long killing decades of the '80s and '90s, you never heard much about the death penalty. It only came up when one politician wanted to prove he was tougher than another one. But even this became rare due to the near extinction of anti-death penalty politicians. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo was one of the last and best, and he's selling potato chips now, in large part because of his anti-death penalty stand.

Dead Man Walking (the book by Sister Helen Prejean and the movie directed by Tim Robbins) made a dent in the silence for a few months in the '90s. But it seemed to have little lasting impact, perhaps because movie-going Americans were also glad to see Sean Penn executed. Maybe if they had killed Tom Hanks it would have turned things around. The Karla Fay Tucker case made a few conservative Christians stop and think. But they execute so many people in Texas that she ended up lost in the shuffle.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2000
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