I find the cheering of 234 executions extremely odd for supposed supporters of the death penalty.
Rick Perry’s success in the primary hinges on being the daddy-figure posture with the right wing bedwetters. Given that he’s on record as having executed an innocent man, he has to double down to cover his mistake. So, I understand Rick Perry’s political strategy here.
But why cheer executions? Have we as a country sunk so low? The way economics works, when you make executions easy, then you remove its efficacy as a punishment—it is not the harshness of a punishment that discourages crime; it is the harshness relative to other penalties.
Or, to put it statistically, our justice system is designed around type I and type II error. In the first stage you are innocent until proven guilty, and proof is required beyond a “reasonable doubt.” The goal of this, as codified in four out of ten amendments in the bill of rights, is to minimize the Type I error (False Positive: sending an innocent person to jail) at the cost of Type II errors (False Negative: letting a guilty person go free). For instance, The Juice gets away with murder because there isn’t enough evidence to convict. That doesn’t mean he’s innocent, but it does mean he’s not guilty. However, once you are convicted, the same statistics works in reverse: Now it takes an extra-ordinary instance of proof before the State allows you to exonerate you.
It is under the latter statistic, that the death penalty fails. Because death is irrevocable, but our post-conviction justice system requires extraordinary evidence to exonerate an innocent. To avoid a death sentence’s execution, “reasonable doubt” isn’t enough—but it should be. To discourage its abuse, death penalty proponents instituted a process a set of barriers in the form of appeals and pardons that is high—so high that it costs more to execute someone than to put them in jail for life. While it can’t save them from a death sentence, these barriers are supposed to protect every innocent from ever receiving a capital punishment. Once someone is executed, you can’t take it back—death cannot be undone.
Proponents put these barriers because any failure the hastens the end of the death penalty as a form of punishment. Now we see a dismantling of this process, whether by a Right Wing Rick Perry or by a Triangulating Clintonite. What was supposed to be the rarest of punishments, has now become commonplace. This failure, for their barriers were circumvented, should be a cause of remorse for proponents; this failure, that innocents should be executed to end it, should be a cause of sadness for those on the other side.
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner once wrote: the “execution of a legally and factually innocent person would be a constitutionally intolerable event.” The minute the State executes its first innocent person, it loses all claim it has to the rightfully sentence someone to death.
234 under one governor in one state! Surely one among them was innocent?
Apparently people were shocked by the applause here. The only thing that shocked me was that they didn’t form a rumba line. It’s a Republican debate. And it’s America. Perry’s right — most people support the death penalty. It’s the job of those of us who oppose the death penalty to change that.
It’s worth remembering that no Democratic nominee for the presidency in some twenty years, has been against the death penalty. This is still the country where we took kids to see men lynched, and then posed for photos.
We are a lot of things. This is one of them.