On December 7, 1982, the State of Texas strapped Charles Brooks, Jr. down to a gurney and pumped poison into his veins. It was the first execution in the Lone Star State after the US Supreme Court lifted the ban on the death penalty.
Some 366 months later, on June 26, 2013, the State of Texas strapped Kimberly McCarthy down to a gurney and pumped poison into her veins. It was the 500th execution in the Lone Star State after the US Supreme Court lifted the ban on the death penalty.
In the meantime, all that death brought no one back to life. All that death failed to fill the holes left in the lives of the family and friends of the victims. All that death created new holes in the lives of the family and friends of the condemned inmates.
And, at least one of those folks strapped down to a gurney and killed by the power of the state was innocent. And that one instant should be enough to make us stand up and demand that the most intrusive power of the state be abolished. That one killing should be enough to disgust each and every one of us. But, it isn't.
As Ray Hill, the host of KPFT's Execution Watch, stated last night, ordinarily the punishment meted out in our criminal (in)justice system is all about the defendant but, when the death penalty is involved, it's all about us.
We have the power to show mercy. We have the power to tell our government that taking a life doesn't make up for the taking of another life. But we choose not to do that.
The death penalty isn't a deterrent. It's a tool we use because we're angry with what someone did. After 500 state-sponsored killings, folks are still going around killing other folks.
Ms. McCarthy's case should also make us all stop and think about the long-term effect of drugs on the human body. Would Ms. McCarthy have committed the murder for which she was killed had she not been addicted to crack cocaine? What effect did her exposure to cocaine have on her ability to reason? If her addiction to drugs had affected her so profoundly, shouldn't that have been taken into account during the punishment phase of her trial? Should the fact that she would have no access to cocaine behind bars been a factor in the jury's assessment of whether she would be a future threat to society?
Meanwhile, the death machine keeps humming away.