Many of us familiar with the recent developments regarding the infamous Texas Death Penalty Machine can begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Since 1976 when Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) reversed it earlier prohibition of the death penalty, Texas has always held its top record of executions with pride (the very dangerous sin and weakness).
In a world more perfect than our own there are maybe some very remote reasons to have a death penalty as there are some (very few) crimes which must be punished accordingly. To most rational the psychopathic serial killers, the terrorist with explosives fetish and others throughout history that have committed mass genocide should be permanently removed from human society. Those are indeed very horrible crimes that must be punished (avenged?) very harshly. But there are a few realities that make this remote.
First let’s look at whom is on the infamous Texas Death Row. Most of them are male minorities that have learned the most important lesson of the courtroom. The reality is that wealth and not responsibility determines outcome. If we look hard enough we will find that as a result of this, there are many innocent people on death row (and replete throughout the carnage of the criminal justice system). The most recent statistic that I have heard is that for every 10 executions that TX has carried out, 1 person has been exonerated and released from death row. AI23 has even had a press conference with TCADP a few months ago about a paper I researched and put together indicating that there have been at least 13 innocent people executed in the United States (7 in TX). I am sure that there are many more that even the experts do not know about. Appropriate that we ask this question on the anniversary of the funeral of Troy Davis, "How is justice served by executing someone innocent?" Those sound like mutually exclusive concepts.
The second reality that we should note is that the desire to avenge even these most horrendous crimes with the homicide of the perpetrator is not sufficient to reincarnate the victim. No execution carried out in the name of justice in the history of the world (that I am aware of) has resulted in reincarnating the victims (or any reincarnation period). I feel very solid in predicting the future or looking into my crystal ball that such a reality is unlikely to change.
The third reality is the corruption within ourselves that the death penalty creates. We are punishing a behavior with the same behavior.
However this is all about to change within the next few weeks. So, those of you who have been keeping up with the Texas Death Penalty Machine will know that it is running out of fuel. The specific drugs that Texas Department of Criminal justice uses in its executions are set to expire in September (no specific date provided). TDCJ has already carried out one of two
executions scheduled for September and the other (Arturo Diaz) is set for two days from now. There is still much speculation about what TDCJ plans to do with the upcoming executions for the fall. There are a few scheduled for October and November while the attorney general continues to set execution dates. If TDCJ has no execution drugs to perform the executions specific to the information and instructions on the death warrants, do the execution dates just pass and are rescheduled? Is TDCJ responsible for sending the warrants back to the attorney general or courts saying they can’t administer the warrants? What is TDCJ’s plan for the fall?
My speculation for the long term is that TDCJ will try to find alternative drugs (which could take months of research, politics, negotiation and additional funding) or another method of execution (which would take at least two years before our legislature reconvenes to enact such a statute). Both of these are unlikely to produce any results within the next year at best considering how difficult these drugs are to get, the reluctance of the drug manufacturing companies and the inflexible budget. I also cant imagine in our modern society TX passing a law over the fierce opposition of abolitionists that brings back the electric chair or some other primitive means. The rational people would like to think that we are more intelligent that brutal bloodshed. The use of compounding pharmacies (let’s just make it ourselves in the back lab) doesn’t sound very promising either.
So to our allies against the death penalty, have we effectively won at least part of the battle against the death penalty? What good are statutes and laws if (even with the death penalty) if they can’t be carried out?
Today is the beginning of the Amnesty International Houston Group 23 online blog for social justice. We hope to follow in the footsteps of great social justice blogs like Grits for Breakfast by Scott Hensen and The Defense Counsel Rests by Paul Kennedy and really change for the better our community. This blog is created with the intention of focusing on given issues and the desire to see intellectually stimulating comments from readers. Each week we will have a blog posting by one of our group leaders as each one are experts in their individual fields of human rights. Protection of our human rights can’t be done by any one person and is a responsibility that we all must share in.
My name is Charles Lee Baird and I am the AI23 group director and we have recently been working on a lot with Amnesty International. Amnesty International is really committed to reestablishing a presence here in Houston and serving the human rights needs of the Houston community. We work alongside other great organizations with a commitment to social justice including Houston Rescue and Restore, Catholic Charities, American Civil Liberties Union, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and many others. We have recently scrapped our old website and put up a totally new website with greater resources more in line with our Amnesty International USA office and other localized groups. Staff profiles action pages and this blog are only the beginning of that we have planned.
Around this time of the year we have season premiers or series premiers that captivate our attention in the media. This fall I am looking forward to finally seeing who the Mother of Ted’s children are, what the next step for Oliver Queen is after Malcom Merwin destroyed the Glades and what happened to the psychopath stalking Detective Benson. Last May viewers of many of these shows were left with good cliffhangers and many high expectations for this fall’s lineup. In each of these shows the series premier is always entitle “Pilot”. This first entry is marketed to potential networks to get the producers interested in the series. Often it is this pilot episode that is the most important to understanding future episodes in future seasons because it builds such a solid base. The setting, purpose and characters are first introduced to make their first impressions and their first interactions are what future encounters are often based on.
Obviously, this is a high demand placed on the first installment and so I choose to go back to the beginning of why we as Amnesty International are really here. No doubt most of us are familiar to some degree with the sins of humanity through world history that included massive horrendous bloodshed, greed, violence, malice, racism, hate, and war. After the end of World War II (the most violent and horrendous mass slaughter of human beings to that date) Eleanor Roosevelt began to work with other key members of the recently formed United Nations to compose the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights. This document lists some 30 specific provisions of human rights that were to apply to all humans and set for use the universal standard for our industry. Ms. Roosevelt was determined to prohibit the atrocities that happened in World War II from ever happening again and set a lasting peace. While this indicates that her heart was in the right place many others did not have such an honest and kindred conviction. That is evidenced by the criminals (Castro, Stalin & Chavez to name a few), politicians, lawyers, serpents and other host of villains that still continue to plague our Earth with countless human rights violations including human trafficking, racism, child solders, executions, rapes, hate crimes and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Our world is at a great juncture and never before has there been more of an urgency to protect of human rights and civil liberties.
Now that we have the setting lets elaborate more on the characters and purpose. Using other examples from history (both fictional and nonfictional) we can learn more about our own motives.
The character of Bruce Wayne of Gotham City experienced a terrible tragedy as a young child with witnessing the murder of his parents. The character of John Walsh of Florida also had to deal with a horrific tragedy with the kidnapping and murder of his only son Adam Walsh. Neither of these characters got the closure or justice that they wanted from these horrible events. Depending on which series, version, or show of Batman that you choose the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne is never caught, killed in a violent gang war, falls victim to his industry or simply fades from history. The murder of Adam Walsh (believed by the large consensus of law enforcement to be Ottis Toole who died in 1996 after several providing several misleading confessions and retractions) was never convicted of the crime through the due process of a court of law. In December of 2008 the police formally closed the case identifying Toole as the suspect. Both Batman and John Walsh were unable to administer justice to rectify the damage done by the embodiments of pure evil that forever changed their lives. Both felt massive psychological trauma and for a time actually though the world would stop for their broken hearts or that their lives were over. This sadness is common to the loss of a loved one but is made far worse by the needless violence.
Both of these individuals realized something different about the circumstances that we live in as that is not how the story ends. They realized that there were plenty more other wicked, vile monsters out there from where those came from. The difference was in the future these villains would have would have the embodiment of justice to deal with. In their respective
worlds Batman and John Walsh put the fear of God into scores of evildoers and became symbols of hope to victims of injustice.
I believe that we at Amnesty International have a very similar calling that we must heed. Our nation and world has come through some very difficult times but there is still much work to be done. We have all been the victims of injustice (some more than others) but now we have a call in to end that today. We have a responsibility to understand that while certain injustices of our own history might be outside of our reach to correct, there are plenty more where those came from. The difference is that this time, we stand ready to serve those principles of justice, liberty, equality, freedom and peace. The difference is that this time those villains out there using child solders, committing human trafficking, carrying out genocide, committing prosecutorial misconduct, perpetuating racism, and other violations of humanity, have us to put up with.
A core belief of what we do rests on the old wisdom that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. So I call out to all good people, will you tolerate these sickening violations of basic human rights? I will not. Let's work together and change it.