Cheering for the death of others

I find the [cheering of 234 executions][cheering executions] extremely odd for supposed supporters of the death penalty.

[cheering executions]: “They Messed With Texas—Opinionator”
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][new yorker death penalty], 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][type i and type ii errors]. 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][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][OJ Simpson] 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][cost life prison]. 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][an unlikely vehicle]. 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][the innocence project].

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.

[That minute has passed][new yorker death penalty].

234 under one governor in one state! Surely one among them was innocent?

[Yes, there was][new yorker death penalty].

Think about next time you hear a bunch of people [angry over Duane Buck][Duane Buck], [refusing to save Troy Davis][Troy Davis], or applauding executions.

[Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote][thc wrote]:

> 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][balls to execute an innocent man].

[new yorker death penalty]: “Trial By Fire—David Grann @ The New Yorker. This article is worth a read or three. Definitely Pulitzer Prize worthy. That’s why I linked it three times in this article ;-)”
[type i and type ii errors]: “Type I and type II errors—Wikipedia”
[OJ Simpson]: “O. J. Simpson murder case—Wikipedia”
[cost life prison]: “To execute or not: A question of cost?— MSNBC. As if this is news? We’ve known this since capital punishment was first upheld by the Supreme Court in the 70’s”
[an unlikely vehicle]: “An Unlikely vehicle”
[Duane Buck]: “SCOTUS intervenes in Texas death penalty case on behalf of Duane Buck—Balloon Juice”
[Troy Davis]: “Explaining the Death Penalty to My Children—Emily Huauser @ The Atlantic”
[bill of rights]: “United States Bill of Rights—Wikipedia. These are amendments IV (protection from unreasonable search and seizure), V (due process), VI (speedy trial by jury, confrontation clause), and VII (civil trial by jury) for those of you counting at home”
[thc wrote]: “Death Row Applause—Ta-Nehesi Caotes @ the Atlantic”
[balls to execute an innocent man]: “It Takes Balls to Execute An Innocent Man—Jonathan Chait @ The New Republic”
[the innocence project]: “The Innocence Project. Non-profit clinic designed to exonerate wrongfully convicted people using DNA evidence.”

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One thought on “Cheering for the death of others”


    Remembering then-governor President George W. Bush not granting a stay to born-again evangelical Christian Carla Faye Tucker. Granted, she was guilty—so there was that—but then-governor was quoted in a magazine interview as mocking her “death face.” One wonders what it is about governors from Texas that makes them so sociopathic? (George W. Bush presided over 152 executions while governor of Texas, a record later broken by his successor, Rick Perry. BTW, since the Innocence Project has started, they have been able to exonerate more people from Texas than any other state in the union (Unfortunately this may be statistically mitigated: it’s some number >40 of 273 (>15%) out of a ~12% share of population.)

    Note: Texas requires both a burden of proof AND proof that the person is future danger to execute someone (hence why Duane Buck has a stay of execution). W has more of a case than Perry in his decision since Carla Tucker didn’t become a born-again christian until after she was in jail (and given the nature of her crime, her conversion was possibly fake), but there is no accounting for the mocking, if true.

    And speaking of clemency, here is the famous Atlanta case that started it all. Then-governor Slaton:

    “I can endure misconstruction, abuse and condemnation,” Slaton said, “but I cannot stand the constant companionship of an accusing conscience which would remind me that I, as governor of Georgia, failed to do what I thought to be right…. [F]eeling as I do about this case I would be a murderer if I allowed this man to hang. It may mean that I must live in obscurity the rest of my days, but I would rather be plowing in a field for the rest of my life than to feel that I had that blood on my hands.”

    Would that governors today approach someones death with even the tiniest smidgen of this profile in courage.

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