What must it be like to survive your own execution?
It happened this week in Ohio. And it’s not the first time.
No one cared to get to know the man that they were killing — in Jesus’ case, and in the case of my friend. The judges and governor had made up their mind on who he was based on media headlines. No one saw any need to sit with the man who was on the execution table, to find out if his life had changed and whether or not he was having a positive influence on those around him. They defined him by a crime he had committed years ago.
More than 50 years later, California still lists lethal gas as a legal execution means. So do five other states: Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, although Mississippi and Oklahoma, which use nitrogen hypoxia, don’t use that term. (More on that below). I learned this as I searched on my phone standing in front of John Singer Sargent’s monumental 1919 painting “Gassed,” which is on display in the New-York Historical Society’s exhibition “World War I Beyond the Trenches” (through Sept. 3).
You might think these men were sentenced to death and slated for execution simply because of the gravity of their crimes. You’d be wrong.
There is something beyond the terrible crimes that determined their fates even more so: poverty. The death penalty preys on poor and vulnerable populations.
Arkansas carried out back-to-back executions on Monday night, administering lethal injections to two men convicted of rape and murder to become the first U.S. state to put more than one inmate to death on the same day in 17 years. Marcel Williams, 46, was pronounced dead at 10:33 CDT, a little more than three hours after the execution of 52-year-old Jack Jones, according to officials at Cummins Unit prison, about 75 miles southeast of the state capital, Little Rock.
A U.S. judge in Little Rock on Saturday temporarily blocked plans by Arkansas to hold a rapid series of executions this month, after the inmates argued the state's rush to the death chamber was unconstitutional and reckless.
The last time a U.S. state tried to execute two inmates on the same day, a poorly secured intravenous tube popped out, lethal injection chemicals sprayed in the death chamber, and staff said the pressure of dual executions exposed flaws in the protocol. That scenario in 2014 in Oklahoma, where executions are now on hold, has not stopped Arkansas from pursuing an unprecedented plan to put eight inmates to death in back-to-back lethal injections on four days this month.
They removed all the black folks from the pool of potential jurors.
In the trial of a black man convicted of killing two white folks.
Not in 1950 ... but in 2002.
We march on Jan. 17 because it is the 40th anniversary of the first "modern-era" execution, after our courts ruled in favor of the death penalty following a decade-long moratorium. On that day, Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad in Utah in revenge for his murders of Max Jenson and Ben Bushnell. Since then there have been 1,442 other executions. We will hold 40 signs, one for each year since 1977, with the names of those executed each year. We will also carry roses for the victims — both those who have been murdered and those who have been executed — declaring that violence is the disease … not the cure.
All over the nation, stress levels are in the stratosphere as the election season comes to its frantic conclusion. The choice for president feels like life and death to many of us, and may indeed affect our lives in profound ways. But certain votes will have a direct impact on whether others live or die. If you live in California, Nebraska, or Oklahoma, you have a chance to vote for life, human dignity, and redemption by rejecting the death penalty.
Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Texas has had 537 executions — that’s over 400 more than any other state. But it has been more than five months since Texas has had an execution — 161 days to be exact. And that’s a record worthy of news. There’s only one other time in the past two decades that the death chamber has been that quiet in Texas.
But what’s happening in Texas reveals something deeper that’s happening all over the country. The death penalty is dying.
The human faces of the poor in Mississippi called to Paula and Margaret to love and serve. They responded and found the Divine. While they remained faithful to their Roman Catholic traditions and religious congregations, they needed the “other.” As Emmanuel Levinas, the French philosopher, has taught, “The Divine can only be accessed through the human other to whom the self is infinitely responsible.” With their advanced degrees, years of exceptional service and dedication, they could have gone anywhere. But they needed the people of Mississippi. And the people of Mississippi needed them. “The dimension of the divine opens forth from the human face."
In a letter signed by 49 evangelicals from Texas and around the country, the Christian leaders said officials have a “moral obligation” to stop the execution, which is scheduled for Aug. 24.
After his Sunday Angelus prayer, Pope Francis turned his attention to capital punishment — and the overall treatment of prisoners in general — calling on all Christians to work toward abolishing the death penalty. He also asked for government leaders worldwide, and those of Catholic faith, specifically, to halt any executions during this Holy Year of Mercy.
The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents over 45,000 churches from almost 40 different denominations, published a resolution Oct. 19 that substantially revises their position on the death penalty.
The resolution casts serious doubt on the fairness of the U.S. criminal justice system, citing, among other things, the use of DNA evidence in the exonerations of 258 people in the first decade of the 21st century. While levelling a substantial critique of criminal justice in the U.S., the resolution does not call for an end to the death penalty, but instead acknowledges both sides as legitimate positions.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday that the pope, back in Rome after a six-day visit to the United States, sent a letter through a representative, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.
“While not wishing to minimize the gravity of the crime for which Ms. Gissendander has been convicted, and while sympathizing with the victims, I nonetheless implore you, in consideration of the reasons that have been expressed to your board, to commute the sentence to one that would better express both justice and mercy,” Vigano wrote.
“In reaching its decision, the Board thoroughly reviewed all information and documents pertaining to the case, including the latest information presented by Gissendaner’s representatives,” a release sent from board chairman Terry Barnard said. No other explanation of the decision was given.
I formerly served as a corrections officer at a maximum security facility. I also used to be a reserve police officer. I have sped through city streets in a squad car, sirens blaring, on my way to shootings. I have booked and interviewed (interrogated) alleged murderers. I have seen victims’ families cry. I have had inmates hit me. I even used force when I wore a badge. And yet, as a Catholic Christian, over the years I have come to oppose capital punishment for a number of reasons.
I agree with Pope Francis’ remarks about the death penalty. During his speech before Congress, Democrats and Republicans applauded when he emphasized: “Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’” (Mt 7:12). The pope added: “This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
Three times in the past month, the Nebraska Legislature voted for a bill to repeal capital punishment and replace it with life without parole. The governor has promised to veto the legislation, and an override vote is looming. Many of the Christian lawmakers made it clear they cast their votes against the death penalty, in part, to promote a whole life ethic.
The leader of the group is Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, a Catholic who put his personal reasons for opposing capital punishment into one easily understood phrase.
“I am pro-life,” he said.