Follow the Soapbox
Mickey Z.
World News Trust
May 19, 2015

“I understand people who think the death penalty just continues the cycle of violence,” wrote Ann O’Neill of CNN after covering the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. “But I have no idea how I'd feel if somebody killed someone I love. I suspect I'd want to execute him or her with my own hands. If you saw the trial I saw, it's not difficult to understand how, if we're going to have the death penalty, this is the type of crime it is intended to punish.”

Such textbook corporate media propaganda, of course, is designed to obscure the real motivations behind capital punishment.

Prison Nation
Of the roughly 3,100 human beings currently languishing on death row all across the Land of the Free™, some are guilty, some innocent -- but all await a grisly, taxpayer-subsidized demise. Welcome to the prison-industrial complex.

Mumia abu-Jamal sez: "The ruling, wealthy class built prisons and courts to protect them and their wealth from the masses. They also built the ideological illusion of classlessness, which is maintained through their media. They brayed about freedom, while erecting the most massive prison complex this earth has ever seen. They built Prison Nation."

The death penalty stands as a particularly malicious example of how the 1% attempts to maintain control. This sadistic and racist institution remains in effect in 34 states -- plus the U.S. government and military. California has the highest number of death row inmates, but the state that's executed the most prisoners since 1976 is (wait for it…) Texas.

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why?

The most common justification for capital punishment is deterrence. The 1% tells us that fear of losing one's life will deter humans from taking another's life.

Nancy Reagan sez: "I think people would be alive today if there were a death penalty."

Contrary to Ms. Reagan's sage analysis, there is no conclusive evidence that even an electric chair that burns a prisoner alive serves as a deterrent. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC):

"Consistent with previous years, the 2010 FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that the South had the highest murder rate. The South accounts for over 80 percent of executions. The Northeast, which has less than 1 percent of all executions, tied with the West for the lowest murder rate."

“Deterrence?” asks Abu-Jamal in his book, Live from Death Row. “The March 1988 execution of Willie Darden in Florida, exceedingly well-publicized here and abroad, should have had enormous deterrent effect, according to capital theories. But less than 11 hours after 2,000 volts coursed through Darden’s manacled flesh, a Florida corrections officer, well positioned to absorb and understand the lessons of the state ritual, erupted in a jealous rage and murdered a man in the maternity wing of a hospital. Seems like a lesson well learned to me.”

And for whom is this “lesson” usually geared? More from the DPIC: "Over 75 percent of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution were white, even though nationally only 50 percent of murder victims generally are white."

Let's break it down further: 44 percent of the U.S. death row population is African-American, an ethnic group that constitutes a mere 12.6 percent of the nation’s people as a whole. From this statistic, we can draw only one of two conclusions:

  1. Blacks are genetically predisposed towards homicide.
  2. The U.S. justice system is inherently racist.
Ralph Nader sez: "Since I was a law student, I have been against the death penalty. It does not deter. It is severely discriminatory against minorities, especially since they’re given no competent legal counsel defense in many cases. It’s a system that has to be perfect. You cannot execute one innocent person. No system is perfect. And to top it off, for those of you who are interested in the economics it, it costs more to pursue a capital case toward execution than it does to have full life imprisonment without parole."

(None of this, of course, even begins to address the growing wave of law enforcement officials acting and judge, jury, and executioner on the streets of god’s country.)

A second rationale for state-sponsored murder -- one that could only exist in a society indoctrinated to accept predatory capitalism as a viable option -- is cost. In purely dispassionate financial terms, supporters claim that an execution is cheaper than long-term incarceration.

Study after study has proven this to be a convenient myth. For example, in 2005, the Los Angeles Times reported that the California death penalty system -- the largest in the nation -- costs taxpayers "$114 million per year beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life. Taxpayers have paid more than $250 million for each of the state’s executions."

Other sources have reported similar findings in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland. Hence, even if some insist on putting a price tag on life itself, it still falls short as a justification for capital punishment.

Noam Chomsky sez: "The death penalty can be tolerated only by extreme statist reactionaries who demand a state that is so powerful that it has the right to kill."

“An eye for an eye” is yet another justification -- parroting the best homicidal traditions of The Bible.

But we do not rape the rapist nor do we burn down the house of the arsonist. Why then do we murder the man or woman charged with taking a life?

“Let the punishment fit the crime,” comes the rallying cry. Which brings us back to O’Neill’s words at the top of this article: “If we're going to have the death penalty, this is the type of crime it is intended to punish.”

If this is truly our idea of justice, we are obviously living in a society that is not held to a higher standard than that of its “worst” criminals -- a State that is no better than the murderers it chooses to punish (nor the murderers it opts to ignore).

Innocent till proven…
As Ralph Nader stated above, we “cannot execute one innocent person."

But as the DPIC explains: "Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. From 1973-1999, there was an average of 3.1 exonerations per year. From 2000-2007, there has been an average of 5 exonerations per year."

Amnesty International has listed some of the many actors leading to wrongful convictions:

  • Inadequate legal representation.
  • Police and prosecutorial misconduct.
  • Perjured testimony and mistaken eyewitness testimony.
  • Racial prejudice.
  • Jailhouse "snitch" testimony.
  • Suppression and/or misinterpretation of mitigating evidence.
  • Community/political pressure to solve a case.
Desmond Tutu sez: "To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice."


Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here and here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.



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