Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Death Culture

Ink and electrons continue to be spilled on the assassination of Osama bin Laden. The latest revision to the story coming from the White House is that Osama was not armed when the Navy Seals broke into the room Osama was in, but he still resisted so they opened fire. That story still has plenty of gaps so I'm sure we'll be dealing with it as a lead story for at least two more days. Violent death is always a big story in our culture.

Another story on violent death played out 41 years ago. Today is the anniversary of the Kent State massacre when Ohio National Guard opened fire on student protesters at the university, killing four of them and wounding nine others. Their crime? They wanted to end the war in Viet Nam.

Both stories are notable insofar as they involved extra-judicial killings. No judge and jury were involved. While the victims in both are hardly identical, the incidents do show a comfort zone for when and where killing people is deemed acceptable or excusable, even if there has been no trial.

But what about cases in which there have been trials and the sentence is death? Does that ultimately make a difference? Are there times when state sponsored killing of civilians is perfectly acceptable? Apparently the state of California and many other states think so. The only real caveat is that the death be carried out without undue pain and suffering.

California returned to the death penalty in the late '70s, but there have been no executions for several years now because of the pain and suffering issue. The main drug in the lethal injection used by the state is no longer manufactured in the country and is in short supply worldwide, which complicates matters. There is also a federal case pending on the issue of the lethal injection mode used by the state and authorities have been scurrying to come up with a program which will pass muster.

The latest plan has hit a snag, so there will be more delays.

California officials have backed off a drive to resume executions this year, asking a federal judge to delay until at least January his review of revised lethal injection procedures.

The delay means that the state will have gone at least six years without executing any condemned prisoners, who now number 713. ...

Although other death penalty states have scaled back the number of capital charges sought in murder trials, partly out of concern for the soaring costs of maintaining capital punishment, California has bucked the national trend and continued adding to its teeming death row, the nation's largest, experts said.

I suppose the ineptness in finding a way to execute someone which passes constitutional muster is a sort of blessing, but I would much prefer that the government at all levels get out of the business of executions. Yes, there are people who have committed monstrous crimes, there are Osama bin Ladens who threaten our security, but there are surely better answers than engaging in the same act which is at the root of the sentence.

An eye for an eye leads to societal blindness. And that's what ultimately was behind Kent State.

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