Killing Time in Arkansas

So, as you probably know, my home state has been rushing to carry out eight executions within 240 hours, starting today. I’m not going to rehash all the fine arguments against the death penalty here. Instead, I have just a few observations to share:

  1. This being Easter Monday, much of the rhetoric surrounding the oncoming mass execution has focused upon Jesus. I went to a rally against the executions on Friday (Good Friday), and many speakers sought to equate ancient Rome with Arkansas and Jesus with the people facing death–that Jesus was also someone executed by the state. The intent of such rhetoric is to cast Governor Asa Hutchinson’s push for the deaths of these eight men as “unchristian.” However, this seems empty rhetoric to me. Christians have long embraced rituals of human sacrifice, for whatever reason. Witches were burned, heretics tortured and beheaded, infidels slain on Crusade, etc. The American South is often described as the “Bible belt” due to the dominance of fundamentalist evangelical denominations. In Springfield, Missouri, in 1906, a mob numbering in the thousands lynched three black men the day before Easter, and then most of those participants went to their respective churches the following day and gave thanks that their precious community had been protected from vicious negroes by these brave men. Go back in time and survey the make-up of any Southern lynch mob, and you will find nary a non-believer. So please stop insisting that this particular execution somehow stands in stark contrast to how Christians have historically behaved–it does not.
  2. On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,129 and injuring more than 2,500 other people. The building’s owners had long ignored signs of structural deficiency, and the death toll was so high because garment workers whose factory was located there were ordered by their employers to return to the building, despite obvious issues with its structural integrity. Keep that in mind as you remember other cases of corporate malfeasance that have resulted in high death tolls: the Ford Pinto’s exploding gas tank is a classic case, but there is also the Firestone tire failure that killed some 175 people, and every day insurance companies deny claims for life-saving procedures–that’s a body count that has to rank pretty high. Yet what CEO has ever faced the firing squad? But, you might say, surely the responsibility for these massive death tolls is distributed among the corporate leadership, boards of trustees, supply chains, and even consumers who demand cheaper and cheaper products without wanting to know how that low price was obtained! Indeed. And, likewise, the responsibility for any single murderer is also distributed among the abusive parents, the failing school that did not offer a way out of that cycle of violence, the voters who are perfectly happy to underfund certain schools so long it gives their own precious white children in private school a leg up on the competition, the gangs that offered positive reinforcement for acts of violence, and a state that only bothered to intervene when someone had been killed. If the responsibility for the Rana Plaza collapse is too distributed to hold anyone accountable, then the same is true for any act of murder.  Truth be told, I would be perfectly happy with a system of capital punishment so long as these CEOs landed on death row–you could even bring back public hangings on the courthouse lawn. But as it stands, the death penalty in the United States is nothing more than a weapon used in the ongoing war of the rich against the poor.

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