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


  1. Oh boy, so many strong feelings on incarceration, the death penalty, state spending, the racism inherent to this issue, and so on. Thanks for bringing some light to where Arkansas (and many, many other states) has room to improve.

  2. this is really a beautifully written post about a terrible issue. I agree 100% and cannot for the life of me understand how we can write laws against murder on the one hand and then turn around and commit murder on the other.


We love hearing from our readers. Thank you so much for your support!