Thursday, March 29, 2012






Keeping It Unreal On Death



We`ll steal away said the Ranger
Grab an Injun by the hand
Tonto said, turn me loose, stranger
What you mean, we, white man

The Lone Ranger

Lyrics by: Oscar Brown Jr.
1974


Lazy or deceptive.    Or perhaps a combination of the two.    Either way, it was an irresponsible report presented Tuesday on MSNBC.    Yes, that's you, Rachel Maddow (transcript, here).

Maddow interviewed Bryan Stevenson, an attorney who has successfully challenged prison conditions in the U.S.A. (especially active in criminal justice) and recently received a record-setting 20-minute standing ovation at the TED Conference.

Number one, China. Number two, Iran. Number three, Saudi Arabia. Number four, Iraq. And number five, the United States of America -- USA, USA.

They`re not very many lists on which we come fifth after Iran and Iraq but that`s because the lists of which countries are killing the largest number of their prisoners, that list only comes out once a year. Today is the day the China is first. Then it`s the Saudis and Iran and Iraq and us. It`s difficult company, right?


In all of Europe and all of the countries that used to be the Soviet Union, the only country that executed anyone last year was Belarus. We`re the only country in the whole G-8, all the biggest industrialized economies in the world who executed anyone last year.


Japan is in G-8. I has the death penalty on its books, but Japan didn`t use it last year, didn`t kill any of its prisoners.


We did. We did that 43 times last year. But here`s the thing, the number is actually going down for us. We may be the only modern industrialized nation in the world that still regularly goes into our prison cells, takes people who are already incarcerated out of those cells, and then kills them as quietly as possible.


We may be the last industrialized country in the world that is doing that but we are doing that less. We killed 46 times in 2010 and 43 time last year. That`s the direction that things are going for us in this field, generally speaking.


This chart, from the Death Penalty information centre, indicates there were 33, rather than 43, last year but let's not quibble.    There have been, over the past two years, at least 79 executions in the United States.     But, notably, Maddow did not say that more prisoners are executed in the United States than anywhere but China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.      She referred to "the lists of which countries are killing the largest number of their prisoners;" that "Japan didn't use it last year, didn't kill any of its prisoers.   We did.   We did that 43 times last year."     Further, "we may be the only modern industrialized nation in the world that still regularly goes into our prison cells, takes people who are already incarcerted out of those cells, and then kills them as quietly as possible."

What, pray tell, does Rachel Maddow mean by "we"?      Here is a list of the prisoners executed by the United States last year:



Here is a list of the prisoners executed by the United States since March 19, 2003:



There has been none.    In the last eleven years, no prisoner has been executed by Rachel's "we," i.e., the "United States." (Thirty individuals currently are on death row, according to Amnesty International.)      There have been, rather, 79+ executions the last two years in the United States.

It is not an important distinction.   It is a critical distinction, one with implications for American politics, criminal justice, and federalism.     The federal government kills precious few prisoners, the last occurrence having been on March 18, 2003.     Those executions which so appall Maddow- without regard to individual circumstances of the offense and the offenders- were imposed upon defendants found guilty, and sentenced, by judges/jurors of violation of the statutes of those particular states.   The indisputable leader (or culprit), as usual, was the State of Texas, responsible for putting to death 27 inmates in 2010-2011.

Excommunicated from the United States by the host are 35 states and the District of Columbia, which either no longer have a death penalty statue or, for whatever reason, did not execute anyone in 2010 or 2011.        Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have executed no one since 1976.  

Maddow cited Illinois, Oregon, Maryland, and Connecticut as states which have ended, or are making progress toward ending, executions.      Still, she failed to distinguish between federal and state death penalty  statutes and practices and generally left the impression that execution is still commonplace in the U.S.A.     She is entitled to make a principled, or pragmatic, argument against the death penalty but, unless her name is Limbaugh (which it is far from), not to mislead her audience.     In this republic (not democracy), the "we" who are approving execution ultimately are not people, but governments; not the government of the United States of America, but state governments; not most state governments, but a few, and one in particular.      Perhaps Ms. Maddow would like to direct her attention toward them, or it.    





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