Tag Archives: death penalty

Indefensible

Although the United States and Europe have made impressive strides, both culturally and legally, in the battle against homophobia, that progress has by no means been global in scope.

Homosexuality is illegal in over 70 countries, and in 13 of them, the penalty is death.

Very few of the issues that come before the United Nations are straightforward, but on September 29th, members voted on a Resolution that should have been a “slam dunk” for the U.S. The motion called upon countries in which capital punishment remains legal  to take steps to ensure that the death penalty is not imposed “arbitrarily or in a discriminatory manner” or for forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual homosexual relations.

As numerous outlets, including Newsweek, reported,

The United States was one of 13 nations, including some of the most repressive nations on Earth, to oppose a United Nations motion condemning the death penalty for those in same-sex relationships, blasphemers and adulterers.

Incredible as it seems, the United States voted in Geneva against that United Nations motion.  We were joined by Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in voting  no. That’s the company we are evidently now keeping.

The measure passed anyway, with 27 votes, but that doesn’t make our vote any more palatable, or any less of a betrayal.

Rights activists have condemned the Trump administration and its U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, for refusing to back the measure, with the Human Rights Campaign slamming the decision as “beyond disgraceful.”

“Ambassador Haley has failed the LGBTQ community by not standing up against the barbaric use of the death penalty to punish individuals in same-sex relationships,” said Ty Cobb, director of HRC Global in a statement.

Susan Rice, ambassador to the U.N. under Barack Obama, said “shame on US!” in reaction to the vote.

“I was proud to lead U.S. efforts at UN to protect LGBTQ people, back in the day when America stood for human rights for all,” she tweeted.

The State Department denied animus toward the LGBTQ community, and defended the vote on the grounds of “broader concerns”– i.e., the resolution’s condemnation of the death penalty. (It called for countries which have yet to abolish the death penalty to “consider” doing so.) In the past, the U.S. has abstained from voting on condemnations of capital punishment, and we could easily have joined the seven nations that abstained from this particular vote. But we didn’t.

Abstention is one thing. A “no” vote is another. The U.S. has never previously voted against such resolutions.

Despite State Department insistence that the vote did not signal a change in U.S. support for the rights of LGBTQ persons,

The U.N. vote comes a week after the Trump administration argued in court that federal anti-discrimination law does not protect gay people from being fired by their employers because of their sexuality.

Nineteen states in the U.S. and two-thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty. In retaining capital punishment, we join countries like Uganda, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other nations not exactly known for their enlightened view of human rights. We not only retain the death penalty, we use it. A lot. The U.S. executes more people than most other nations; according to Amnesty International,  of the 10 nations in the world that account for the highest number of executions, we rank seventh.

That enthusiasm for the death penalty, while incomprehensible to me, might have justified an abstention from the vote. It does not justify voting against the resolution. Claims that the vote isn’t a signal that the Trump administration is trying to roll back progress on gay rights ring hollow.

Not that an assault on yet another group despised by White Straight Conservative Christian Males should surprise us….

Doubting Evolution

I am a big believer in science, but I must admit that human behavior over the past couple of weeks has made me doubt evolution.

First, we had the appalling eruptions during GOP debates–first, audience applause when Brian Williams prefaced a question to Rick Perry by noting that executions in Texas during his tenure far exceeded those in any other state; and second, shouts of “yes, let them die” when Ron Paul was asked whether uninsured people should simply be allowed to die.

Now we have the repulsive right-wing reaction to the execution of Troy Davis.

Callers to conservative radio shows last night defended that execution by insisting that the family of the murder victim “deserved closure.” Presumably, closure can come only from the death of another human being.  Now, I am not a supporter of the death penalty, for many reasons I won’t go into here, but even if one does support capital punishment, I cannot conceive of the “closure” that would come from proceeding with an execution where there is such substantial doubt of guilt. How can killing the wrong person provide justice or even retribution? How would executing a possibly innocent man be any different from the murder for which they are seeking vengeance?

Perhaps human evolution doesn’t always produce a capacity for compassion or empathy, but it should at least produce beings capable of a modicum of reason. These sickening displays of irrational blood-lust suggest that some among our human family not only haven’t evolved, they’ve regressed.

Death and Taxes

These days, those of us who follow policy debates are suffering from overload: same-sex marriage, immigration policy, foreign policy—not to mention the re-emergence of pocketbook issues like collective bargaining rights—are generating lots of heat, if distressingly little light.

And then, of course, there are the perennial complaints about taxes.

Everyone, it seems, wants government to cost less–until someone suggests cuts to our particular sacred cows. In Washington, we see lawmakers eager to de-fund Planned Parenthood and NPR become livid when someone suggests cutting military spending. Here in Indiana, an eminently reasonable proposal by Governor Daniels and the Chief Justice to incarcerate fewer nonviolent offenders and save the billions of tax dollars that we would otherwise spend building additional prisons has been eviscerated by defenders of “law and order.”

In fact, the criminal justice system offers one of the best opportunities to save significant tax dollars, beginning with abolition of the death penalty.

People have different opinions about the morality of capital punishment, and I leave those arguments to ethicists and theologians. There are, however, some pretty compelling practical and fiscal arguments for abolition.

As a practical matter, years of scholarship have confirmed that capital punishment is not a deterrent. In 2009, states with the death penalty had murder rates of 5.2 per 100,000 residents; in states without, the rate was 3.9—a 35% difference. Police agree. In a recent poll, police chiefs ranked the death penalty last among ways to reduce violent crime; they also considered it the least efficient use of taxpayer money, and complained that it diverted money from more effective crime control measures.

Which brings us to the fiscal issues.

In 2010, Legislative Services analyzed capital punishment costs in Indiana, and determined that the average cost of a capital trial and direct appeal was 449,000–over ten times the 42,658 cost of a life-without-parole case.  In California, taxpayers pay 114,000,000 more each year than it would cost to keep those same offenders imprisoned for life. In Kansas, capital cases are 70% more expensive than non-capital cases, even including the costs of lifelong incarceration. In Texas, a death penalty case costs three times what it would cost to imprison someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years.

Advocates of the death penalty often complain that the higher costs are a result of “interminable appeals,” but that isn’t actually true. Appeals do add costs, but a capital trial is very expensive. Cells on death row and extra staff cost more.

We could eliminate appeals and execute people immediately upon conviction. That would save money. Unfortunately, such a proposal raises another pesky problem we have with capital punishment—the fact that we convict innocent people. Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death row because they were found to be innocent. These were not folks freed on a “technicality,” they were people wrongfully convicted.

One of those people will be in Indianapolis on April 14th. Randy Steidl will speak at the IUPUI Campus Center at 7 p.m. about the 17 years he spent on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. Randy comes from a law-abiding middle-class family; his brother is a retired State Trooper. His story is troubling, to say the least: there was evidence of the sort of police and prosecutorial misconduct that—more often than we might like to think—accompanies the rush to solve high-profile murders.

As Steidl says, “If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone.”

I guess that’s one of those “moral” arguments I said I wasn’t going to make.

Understanding Scalia

Eric Vieth at Dangerous Intersections has a fascinating–and chilling–review of Antonin Scalia’s position on executing people who are proved innocent after being convicted in a “fair” trial.  Hint: “they probably did something wrong anyway…”