Saving 49 Lives (Part 3)

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

cross-posted from The Dream Antilles

There are 49 people presently facing the federal death penalty.  If we want to, we might be able to spare them.  We might be able to get the new Attorney General, Eric Holder, to review the decisions by the three Bush Administration Attorney Generals to pursue the death penalty in these cases, and if the new Attorney General thought, if there were convictions, that the defendants shouldn’t be killed, he could require prosecutors not to seek the death penalty, to be satisfied with a maximum sentence of life without parole.  This would be a remarkable development.  It would save lives.  The United States would join the civilized world that has stopped state killing.  The essential hypocrisy of an eye for an eye would be abandoned.  It would be a new era.  We would not have these people’s blood on our hands.

In general, the 49 people facing the federal death penalty aren’t very nice people.  They’ve been charged with horrible crimes.  Many have previously been convicted of horrible crimes.  Many of them really should be confined so that they will not kill and maim again.  But the issue before the new Attorney General isn’t whether to invite these people to a Georgetown dinner party.  It’s whether, once a jury has convicted them of terrible crimes, to ask that the jury vote to kill them.  That is a step in the criminal process that can easily be foregone.  Life without parole is a horrible sentence.  And it is enough.  It is enough in every single case.

So, I have been writing about the 49 lives and what it will take to save them.  On Sunday, I wrote an essay which began with a discussion of how the three Bush Administration Attorney Generals had broken previous tradition and had decided that they, and not the local US Attorney in a district, should decide whether the death penalty should be sought in federal cases.  I wrote that the new Attorney General should review each of these cases and should apply new criteria, his own criteria, to determine whether it was appropriate to continue to seek the death penalty in each of the cases.  This made sense to me.  I posted the essay here, at dailyKos, at Wild Wild Left, at Never In Our Names, and at my beloved The Dream Antilles.  That it received little response didn’t matter to me: it was Superbowl Sunday, and, after all, it was an essay about the death penalty.  Most death penalty essays quickly degenerate into brawls in which some people, even on supposedly progressive blogs, argue that they’re ok with the death penalty and that we should make it work better, to keep it from making the kinds of mistakes that have now caused the exoneration of more than 130 people who were sentenced to death.

The essays all scrolled off.  The response was minimal.  When I awoke on Monday, I thought I needed to keep this idea alive.  So, instead of doing other, pressing things, I wrote an essay about the same topic, saving the lives of the 49 people facing federal death penalty prosecutions.  I explained that I wanted readers to email the new Attorney General, Eric Holder, who was expected to be confirmed on Monday evening, and to request that he review all of the 49 pending federal death penalty cases and that he withdraw permission to seek the death penalty when the cases did not meet his criteria.  I provided a link so that readers could send their own message to the White House, or the 500 character message I proposed to ask for this.  I again posted the essay here, at dailyKos, at Wild Wild Left, at Never In Our Names, and at The Dream Antilles.  I also sent the essay along to blogs dealing with criminal justice and to blogs dealing with criminal defense.  I also sent the essay along to mailing lists dealing with death penalty abolition and death penalty defense.  That this second essay received little response didn’t matter to me: it takes a lot, an awful lot to get folks motivated to do anything about those who might be facing the death penalty.  OPOL and NPK and others offered encouragement.  I agreed to be persistent.  I agreed to continue to raise the issue.  But the second essay, also, scrolled off.  And then there was again cavernous silence.  And the 49 people were still facing the death penalty, and nobody in Washington was calling me to say that these cases would be reviewed.

Very well.  I decided I needed to write a third essay, this one.  I decided that I needed go through the whole drill yet again, but first, I decided that I would start an online petition asking Attorney General Holder to review all of the pending federal death penalty cases and to direct federal prosecutors not to pursue the death penalty if the cases didn’t meet his criteria.  I would tell you, dear friends, about this first.  Tomorrow, when I can post again at the other blogs, I will edit this and post this there.  

Why did I create and post an online petition?  Generally, I dislike online petitions.  I don’t think they do very much.  But I created this petition because I want to find ways of helping people to tell the Attorney General that it is important to us, that we want him to review the 49 pending death penalty cases, that we want him to save these lives.  And also, it’s important for us to have something that we can circulate across the wide and boundless Internet so that others can learn about this issue and can say, “Yes,” I want the Attorney General to review these cases and cancel the prosecutors’ authority to ask for death in each of them.  The petition is an easy to use tool to spread the word.

I also created the online petition because I see that quickly, very quickly I am going to run out of material for essays on this topic.  I think I have enough material for an essay every day this week.  After that, I am afraid that I might start repeating myself even more egregiously than I am now.  So be it.  If I cannot write about anything else for the next month except getting Attorney General Holder to review these cases, so be it.  Which brings me to you.

Please help me out with this.

Please post this essay or a link to it in your blogs.  Please send this essay or a link to it to your friends, to your email lists and to other blogs that might post it.  Please sign the petition.  And when you sign, please send the petition to others who will in turn pass it along.  Please send an email to the White House.

I realize how very odd all this is.  I find it exceedingly strange to think that by having a lot of people send emails to the White House or sign a petition I have written or forward essays about this topic, that critical mass will be achieved and then the Attorney General will listen to the request and review the cases.  I’m not used to having power listen to common voices like ours.  So in many ways, this is a living experiment about democracy.  In a democracy, our voices will be acknowledged.

This is a most idealistic, most hopeful thought.  I don’t know whether it will happen, but my intention is to keep banging away on this until it has a chance.  I ask only that you join me in this effort in whatever ways you think are appropriate.  It’s not often that so many lives can be saved with what amounts to so little effort.  And it’s not often that we get to test our love of justice and our belief in democracy in such a practical way.


  1. Please help me with this however you can.

    There are two simple steps.  First, you can send an email to the White House (500 character limit) and you can sign the petition.

    Also, you can post this essay and/or the petition on your sites and distribute it by email.

    You can think of other steps I can take to keep this alive and to grow it.  Please put those in the comments.  I need new things to try so I don’t run out of essay topics before this has been sufficiently spread.

    As always, thanks for reading.  Oh, and right now 14 people have signed the petition.

  2. And sent off to my email list.

    Death penalty — meh.

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