The death penalty: nothing left but the shame

Seen from the viewing room, Alabama's lethal injection chamber. Picture: AP.

The New York Times editorial board has come out with a piece entitled “The Secret Shame of the Death Penalty“. In light of the Oklahoma debacle with Clayton Lockett and the last-minute stay of Russell Bucklew, they point out that lethal injection is the latest in a long line of execution methods that attempts to avoid being seen as barbaric. They state:

By now, it is clear that lethal injection is no less problematic than all the other methods, and that there is no reason to continue using it. But capital punishment does not operate in the land of reason or logic; it operates in a perpetual state of secrecy and shame.

In most cases, it is conducted late at night, behind closed doors, and as antiseptically as possible. Were it to be done otherwise, Americans would recoil in horror, as they did after the debacle in Oklahoma.

There is no humane way to execute someone. Lethal injection has typically used paralytic drugs to disguise extreme pain so that the people administering it and those who are witness can sleep at night. At the end of the day it is a murder, just with special context and circumstances. In the 21st century, the only way to sell capital punishment is to make sure that regular individuals never have to think about it. Small, private executions in the middle of the night. Everyone can sleep peacefully, until something like the Lockett case reminds us all that people die writhing, moaning, screaming just after midnight, courtesy of taxpayer money.

Author: AJM

Writer, sociologist, Unitarian Universalist.

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