cross-posted from The Dream Antilles
For most of my life, I’ve been passionately opposed to state killing. I remember as a child knowing that California’s gas chamber execution of Caryl Chessman was unjust. I remember hearing with horror about the federal electric chair executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. And I admit that since I was 10 I have never understood how civilized people could justify state killing. From the beginning, state killing has appeared to me to be barbaric and horrific. Yes, there are lots of other barbaric things in the world, you could make a long, annotated list of them, but for one reason or another, despite all of the other terrible things in the world, something about state killing deeply appalled me. And eventually, the fight to end state killing spoke to me, so I took it up. That was a long time ago.
It’s probably my feelings about barbarism that are driving me today to try to save the 49 people facing the federal death penalty. I know we are better than this. I know we are not killers. I know we are more compassionate than that. I know we are more just than that. It’s my feelings about barbarism that have me writing an essay every day about the same thing. That’s what has me asking you over and over again to email Attorney General Eric Holder at Whitehouse.gov or at askDOJ@doj.gov. That’s what has me asking you to sign a petition. In short, I’m appalled by state killing, and I want to stop it.
What’s necessary now in my opinion is to ask Attorney General Eric Holder please to review all of the decisions made by his predecessors in office that directed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in federal cases and to determine whether he agrees with those decisions. If he does not think that the death penalty is entirely appropriate, he should withdraw authority for federal prosecutors to seek death. It’s really quite simple. I’m not asking him to dismiss the indictments. I’m not asking him to drop cases. I’m not asking him to perform acts of mercy. I’m just asking him whether the United States can be satisfied asking for a maximum of life without parole and not death in these cases. That’s all I’m asking for.
It’s not much to ask for. Really it isn’t. What, if anything, is the government giving up by not asking for death and asking instead for life without parole? In my view the government gains in stature and it gives up nothing of value. What it does give up are things it should have abandoned decades ago. In my view, by not asking for death, the government gives up some of its inhumanity, it gives up a horrific difference from other civilized nations, it abandons an old harbor for its racism, it leaves behind its most unenlightened, violent, hypocritical aspect. It emerges wiser, more powerful, more human, more compassionate, and more just. It acknowledges that humans are imperfect and that there are weapons that should never be used.