April 24, 2017

On the Eve of Executions: We Are Responsible

Well we did it. The state of Arkansas executed a man on 4/20/17 shortly before midnight. This man's name was Ledell Lee and he was convicted and sentenced to death in 1993 for the murder of Debra Reese.

We as citizens of Arkansas must come to grips with our own culpability in this state-sponsored, premeditated murder of a human being. We must also realize that we too are accountable for the death of Debra Reese.

Arkansas consistently ranks as the penultimate or second runner-up in lowest average household income when comparing all states within our union. As a poor state we experience more strain when dealing with governmental allotments. We routinely cutback social spending in the name of fiscal responsibility. We close schools that were not under academic distress, we abolish school boards, we renege on promises to expand the availability of affordable pre-K for families (yet we raised the rate for exemptions on capital gains). We fail to increase K-12 spending in accordance with a legislative review, and we fail to increase spending for students with disabilities in accordance with the same legislative review. And of course, we legislate against access to certain reproductive services.

There are many, many more terrible laws enacted by Arkansas's legislature but I wish only to highlight a few to establish an overarching theme within my state. We fail to adequately provide for our children. We have do not provide enough fiscal support for our schools which results in a D rating for K-12 success according to an Education Week Research Center publication from this year. We do not provide enough spending for social programs that assuage the burden of poverty plaguing nearly 1/3 of our children.
(Credit: Arkansas News/John Lyon)
The only "social program" we are keen to spend more on is our prison system. We are so obsessed with the notion of "personal responsibility" that we fail to adhere to our social responsibilities to one another. Our love affair with incarceration has blinded us to the varying stages where we, as a society, could have intervened beforehand to correct the behaviors of today's criminals: we do not provide the means for an adequate education; we do not provide enough after school programs; we do not provide enough free recreational activities; we do not provide enough quality mental healthcare; and we do not provide enough quality mentoring for our young people. We consistently spend more on imprisoning people than we do on educating them. Furthermore, we provide no significant programs aimed at combating recidivism. By prioritizing government intervention only as a last resort (through arrests, trials and incarceration) we are wasting countless dollars and human capital that could be used to better serve our state.

So while Gov. Hutchinson and his allies aggrandize themselves purveyors of justice, I find myself overwhelmed with shame, anger and sadness. Killing this man did not achieve justice - nor will killing the other death row inmates like Marcel Williams (scheduled to die tonight) achieve justice. If we had done more all those years ago as we should be doing now, we would have two more Arkansans alive today. We failed Debra Reese because we failed Ledell Lee. It isn't until we start investing in proactive and not reactive policies that we will start improving upon the status of our state.

"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men"
-Frederick Douglass

April 17, 2017

On the Eve of Executions: Thoughts on Capital Punishment

Beginning today, my state aims to execute 7 inmates over the span of 11 days. The reason for this flurry of state-sponsored killings is quite easy to discern, our lethal injection pharmaceuticals are expiring. It's an asinine reason for conducting an asinine activity...but apparently Arkansas has a previous history of multiple executions. This event is so spectacularly audacious that we've received substantial attention from national news networks. Currently, the executions have been halted (perhaps only temporarily) by both state and federal court orders. 

I'll quickly summarize why capital punishment is arcane and ineffective.
(Credit: AP/Kelly P. Kissel)
It is not a deterrent. 
    • "Common sense" dictates that harsher punishments deter people from committing said crime but alas "common sense" is wrong. 
    • This logic of deterrence is a fallacy. Malcolm Gladwell highlights this notion in his book David and Goliath by citing the origination of this philosophy, it's implementation, it's inability to manifest change and the more appropriate counter philosophy.
    • Speaking of capital punishment specifically, there is significant evidence from several sources to indicate that state-sponsored murder does not curtail murder within the community. (1), (2), (3) and (4)
It is not fiscally responsible.
It is immoral based on theological doctrine.
    • Christianity is the majority religion in this country so for brevity sake, I will be citing from a Christian worldview. While the Old Testament is often a source of scripture favoring capital punishment, Jesus himself brought forth the New Testament, which is inundated with views against violence and execution. The New Testament canonizes compassion for all, even one's enemies (turn the other cheek, swords becoming plowshares, etc). Furthermore the New Testament describes the public execution of the Christian Messiah which should incentivize Christians to abstain from participating in the same ritual that killed the Son of God. 
    • If you're still adherent to primarily Old Testament scripture then one could cite the commandment that 'Thou shalt not kill' as primary evidence for moral objection to executions. As a community we are all culpable in government execution. 
It's not error-proof
    • Researchers from two Michigan universities collaborated on a comprehensive publication to discern the rate of wrongful executions. Their conservative estimation of the rate of innocent people being executed was 4.1% or 1 in 25. I don't know about everyone but anything greater than zero seems like a lot to me considering the gravity of the subject. While execution in and of itself is wrong, executing innocent citizens is on another level of immorality. 
During the recent legislative session in my state, an Arkansas state representative crafted a bill to eliminate capital punishment from Arkansas's criminal justice registry. I asked my designated congressman to support the bill and the conversation between us was a bit absurd to me. I plan to post details on that interaction in the near future. For now however,  I'll let you stew in these ideological juices while I fervently watch the news and hope that the current court rulings stand long enough to prevent my state from murdering 7 men.

It [capital punishment] does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance.
-Pope Francis

 Give them [criminals] some form of punishment to say they were wrong, but show them they are part of society and can change. Show them compassion.
-The Dalai Lama