ROUNDUP WEEK 28/29 – DECEMBER 18, 2020
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A few weeks back, Emily’s friend (and one of our readers, hi Alec!) texted her to ask what she said when people asked her about the death penalty and she sent him back a (very long — has she ever been brief??) message listing reasons why she believes in abolishing the arcane practice. In the wake of Brandon Bernard’s execution last Thursday, she shared that list on her instagram and a few of you asked her to share it in a newsletter. Thus, today we’re (as briefly as Emily can muster) talking about the death penalty.
REASONS TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY
- The government shouldn’t get to have such a monopoly on violence. This is kind of low-hanging fruit. It just fundamentally does not make sense to kill people to prove that killing is wrong. That’s not “punishment,” it’s vengeance.
- It’s fiscally irresponsible. It is far more expensive to execute someone than to give them a sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOPP).
- It doesn’t deter violent crime. States that still use the death penalty actually report higher incidents of violent crime per capita than those that don’t. In fact, a 2007 study found the rates of violent crime in states that still utilize the death penalty is 42% higher (on average) than those that have abolished it. Where the death penalty is abolished, trends show that murder rates decrease. Experts cite to the presence of the death penalty as directly correlational to rates of violence in affected communities, a theory which they call the brutalization hypothesis.
- It is extremely traumatic for those tasked with performing the executions. Often, the person performing the lethal injection or switch-flipping on an electric chair, and the people shaving the head of the person to be executed and leading them down the hall from death row to the execution chamber have known that person for years. They know about their family on the outside. There is something inherently dehumanizing about taking a life and executioners repeatedly report that it is a traumatic job.
- There’s a high potential for innocence. Since DNA evidence has become more widespread in the criminal legal field, at least 375 people on death row (either while on the row or posthumously) have been exonerated. It is estimated that at least 4% (one in every 25 people) of those currently on death row are innocent.
- Rooted in racism, the death penalty is just a more socially acceptable form of lynching. It is impossible to divorce the popularity of the death penalty in the US from our racist criminal punishment origins. The data backs this up: Black men are overrepresented on death row (44% of those incarcerated on death row are Black while Black people only account for 17% of the national population). There’s also an undeniable bias towards the death penalty in white victim cases.
- Much of the international community is ashamed of the USA’s death penalty laws. Seriously, it is a law on the books across countries in the EU that manufacturers are not allowed to sell the drugs used for lethal injections to any party in the USA. There are massive anti-death penalty human rights groups across the UK and Germany to end the USA’s archaic and cruel death penalty.
- Let’s talk about what happens when you are executed by lethal injection: you are first strapped to a gurney so that you cannot move. Then, you are injected with midazolam, a sedative, and vercuronium bromide a drug that induces paralysis so that those watching you (loved ones present to view your execution, clergy members, the guards that have watched your every move for years) don’t have to watch you writhe in pain. You are fully awake and aware of what is happening. In that cocktail of sedatives, there’s also potassium chloride, to stop your heart. However, this can be an hours-long process in which you slowly, painfully die (the KCl supposedly feels like “fire running through your entire body” until it interrupts your heart enough to stop it from beating).
- As much as it hurts to admit it, we are all capable of causing that kind of harm (yes, even the kind of harm that could result in a death sentence). Seriously. People do horrible, horrible things and it’s unconscionable. Except it’s really not. We could all snap and do something unthinkable. We could all be presented with unsurmountable emotional anguish. But for resources and social power, many of us could be ensnared in the criminal punishment system. Beyond that, redemption is always possible.
There’s more we could say about the great hypocrisy of the death penalty. But we will leave you with this: the death penalty (and really all tendrils of current criminal punishment policy) cannot be separated from a legacy of kidnapping, locking away, enslaving and brutally murdering Black humans. Being anti-death penalty is a small, big way of being antiracist.
A NON-FINANCIAL WAY TO TAKE ACTION (A REMINDER FROM TUESDAY’S EMAIL)
Again, we are asking our readers to call or write to the Federal Government that is set to execute two more people in January before Trump leaves office. The Trump administration is the first lame duck administration in 130 years, killing Brandon Bernard last Thursday. In Friday’s upcoming email, we’ll share our reasons we believe in abolishing the death penalty, but if you are looking for a way to do small, big advocacy work this week, please commit 10-15 minutes this week to call or write the Justice Department on behalf of Lisa Montgomery, a woman who suffered a lifetime of abuse, and Corey Johnson, an intellectually disabled man.Write to:
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
(and leave a comment on their Comments line).
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE DEATH PENALTY
- READ: The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton, Dead Man Walking – Sister Helen Prejean
- WATCH: Just Mercy, 2020’s The Last Defense
- LISTEN: More Perfect’s Cruel and Unusual, NPR’s Consider This’s Lethal Injections: Why It Could Amount to Torture, Criminal’s The Job
- FOLLOW: Death Penalty Information Center, Equal Justice Initiative
And in non-death penalty related news, here are some other headlines we loved this week:
OUR RECOMMENDED READS THIS WEEKEND
- Prominent Architecture Group Prohibits Design of Death Chambers – Following the execution of Brandon Bernard, The American Institute of Architects said that it had approved new ethics rules prohibiting members from knowingly designing spaces intended for execution or torture, including for prolonged periods of solitary confinement.
- This CityLab article entitled, The Right to Flush and Forget. Here, Catherine Coleman Flowers, author of the new book Waste, warns that a failure to develop proper sewage infrastructure will spread disease and poverty across rural areas in the USA.
- And another brilliant CityLab piece, Trash Is Piling Up, Sanitation Workers Are Feeling the Strain, wherein sanitation workers explain that our “new normal” of trash full of takeout containers weighs about three tons more per day, per residential area compared to life before the pandemic.
- America’s Biggest Companies Are Flourishing During the Pandemic and Putting Thousands of People Out of Work– yes, you read that right. New studies show that 45 of the 50 biggest companies have turned massive profits since the start of the pandemic and distributed the new, unexpected wealth to shareholders while firing workers.
Alright team, one week out ‘til Christmas for those of us celebrating and we want to take a second to plug our gift guideone last time. If you’re buying from a small business, know that USPS is working overtime this year but they’re busier than ever (BE KIND!). If that small business doesn’t get your gift to you on time, here’s what we recommend: print a picture of the item, put that in a box + wrap it, and when it’s opened tell the recipient that it is coming and you are proud to shop small this holiday season. Bada-bing.
We’re making our content calendar for the new year (exciting!!) and taking any and all recommendations so don’t hesitate to reach out! Otherwise, stay safe and healthy and we’ll chat next week.
Ellie, Emily, and Hayden