The death penalty is violent, unjust and should be abolished

Last week, with almost no debate, the Utah State Senate adopted a bill, 18 – 10, that will allow the use of the firing squad, if drugs were to be unavailable 30 days before scheduled execution. Utah used the firing squad in 2010 to execute one person. Wyoming is examining a similar legislation. The 32 states that still have the death penalty are now looking at this method of the past to continue executing people currently on death row.

In the spirit of innovation, the lethal injection was introduced to remedy the question of suffering in the application of the death penalty, ignoring all kinds of emotional suffering. With the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, lethal injection was developed after the veterinarian techniques of euthanasia and was first experimented in Texas in 1984. This method carried the promise of modernity with the help of medical-technology imagery, making the death penalty appear different than in China, Iran or Saudi Arabia, some of the other major countries using the death penalty.

In the United States the delusional belief that there is a method of killing that could be “humane” with no suffering is reinforced by the populist imperialist discourse. Supporters of lethal injection pretended that it was humane because of the anesthetic that is injected first. This reflects a limited view on what suffering means. Nonetheless, a study published in The Lancet recognized that the procedure for killing inmates was less rigorous than those recommended by the Veterinary Medical Association. The concentration of anesthesia received by the condemned during the lethal injection was lower than required for surgery in 88% of the cases. In 43% the level was so low that the inmates must have had awareness of the asphyxiation, burning and the massive muscle cramping which are the three episodes that the products used for lethal injection entail. With the blockage of delivery of some of these drugs by European laboratories on humanitarian grounds, States began playing the sorcerer’s apprentice at the expense of respect for human dignity.

In 2014 the number and intensity of botched executions attracted more national and international attention. In Arizona, Joseph Wood was pronounced dead one hour and fifty-seven minutes after the beginning of the process. In Oklahoma, Michael Wilson screamed that his body was burning. As a result many states passed “secrecy laws” to allow themselves not to disclose the nature or sources of the drugs they were going to use.

And now a number of states are considering and passing laws to allow former methods that used to be considered barbaric, from the firing squad and the gas chamber to the electric chair. All these methods demonstrate that there is a distance between justice and the death penalty, as the executioner and the penal system are removed from the actual death of the prisoner.

Last spring, the American Academy of Sciences published a study showing that 4.1% of the people on death row are innocent. Consider the recent killing of Troy Davis whose prosecution consisted of incoherence and inconsistency. Nevertheless, the State asserted its dominating power, using the racially vindicating desire of vengeance of the family of the victim as Troy Davis was African American and the victim was white. As with Kelly Gissendaner whose execution is still pending, Davis’ sentence demonstrated that the state is not concerned with a true notion of justice or rehabilitation but rather is the diehard instrument of populist domination within an increasingly inegalitarian society.

Some states have freed themselves from the death penalty. The death penalty should simply be outlawed at the federal level, instead of leaving populist assemblies free to chose more heinous instruments of death. As Cesare Beccharia wrote in Of Crimes and Punishments in 1764, “If I prove that this sentence is neither useful nor necessary, I would have caused the triumph of humanity”.

(Image Credit: The Atlantic / ycaradec / Flickr)

Botched: How Oklahoma got away with murder

Oklahoma successfully tried to kill a man last night.  After writhing and groaning for 43 minutes, Clayton Lockett died. Almost universally, this has been translated into a “botched” execution. Democracy Now, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the BBC, CNN, Slate, and The Tulsa World all agree. The execution was “botched”.

The execution was not botched. It was successful. Oklahoma got exactly what it wanted, what it’s been pushing strenuously to get. A corpse. When it couldn’t get approved lethal drugs, Oklahoma insisted on using an untested combination of killer drugs. Oklahoma fought for the right to kill a human being last night, and it won.

Let no one tell you that that execution was botched. It wasn’t. It was ugly, but executions are ugly. It didn’t go exactly according to plan, but then what does? The end goal was attained, and that’s all that matters. To botch means to clumsily repair or to bungle. No one clumsily repaired or bungled the execution. Clayton Lockett is dead. If anything, by the performative terms of executions, it’s Clayton Lockett who botched his own death. Fortunately, the State was there to make sure the execution wasn’t botched.

A character in a novel once turned to his friend and exclaimed, “What should be displayed in public is something that‘s never shown. What the public really should see are – executions! Why don‘t they put on public executions?”

In Oklahoma last night, that’s just what they did.

In 1930, Georges Bataille suggested, “According to the Grande Encyclopédie, the first museum in the modern sense of the word (that is to say the first public collection) would seem to have been founded on 27 July 1793, in France, by the Convention. The origin of the modern museum would thus be linked to the development of the guillotine.”

What museum will emerge from the story of Oklahoma’s botched execution?

Nothing was botched last night, but a man was butchered to death.


(Photo Credit:

Mississippi is burning to kill Michelle Byrom

Central Mississippi Correctional Facility

Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Bash her in.

Michelle Byrom may, or may not, be executed this Thursday, in two days. She currently sits on death row in Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, in Pearl, Mississippi. Mississippi has three State prisons. All women `offenders’ end up in CMCF. In 1996, Mississippi hosted 807 women prisoners. By 2001, it boasted 1,445 incarcerated women. Today, according to the State’s March 2014 `fact sheet’, Mississippi’s prisons and jails hold 2,233 women behind bars. 900 women live, and die, in Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

In 1999, someone killed Edward Byrom, Sr. By all accounts, Byrom Sr. was a vicious, abusive man, who tortured his wife, Michelle, and forced their son, Edward Byrom Jr, known as Junior, to live in the lowest rungs of hell. Physical abuse, mental and emotional torture, and sexual exploitation were the daily, and hourly, fare in the Byrom household.

The State decided that Junior and a friend had been part of a murder-for-hire plot hatched by Michelle Byrom. When Byrom was killed, Michelle Byrom was in the hospital for double pneumonia. Junior has confessed, at least four times, to having actually murdered his father. Something snapped, he picked up a gun and shot him. Michelle Byrom has been diagnosed “with borderline personality disorder, depression, alcoholism and Muenchausen syndrome, a serious mental illness that caused her to ingest rat poison to make herself ill.” And, of course, her counsel, by all accounts, was somewhere between dreadful and criminally negligent.

Observers have waxed literary in describing the case. For example, Warren Yoder, executive director of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi, said, “John Grisham couldn’t write this story … In any reasonable world, this would be a short story by Flannery O’Connor. Instead, it is happening now in our Mississippi.”

Why is Mississippi burning to kill Michelle Byrom. For that, better to turn to Lord of the Flies. Mississippi hasn’t killed a woman in 70 years, and Mississippi can read the writing on the wall. Soon, capital punishment will come to an end, even in Mississippi, a national leader in executions. That recognition feeds the fire. Facts be damned, along with presumption of innocence and shadows of doubt. The beast needs blood.

The details of Michelle Byrom’s life are hard and disturbing, but the substance, and stench, of Mississippi’s burning is far worse. Stop the execution of Michelle Byrom. Stop all the executions.


(Trip Burns / Jackson Free Press)

They are neither mules nor witches. They are women.

Janice Bronwyn Linden

Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser. Janice Bronwyn Linden. Sixteen elderly women, unnamed.

On Monday, Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was beheaded by the Saudi Arabian government. The charge was witchcraft and sorcery.

On Monday, Janice Bronwyn Linden was executed, by lethal injection, by the Chinese government. The charge was drug smuggling, of being a `mule.’

On Monday, it was reported that, in one district of one province in Mozambique, from January to November of this year, sixteen elderly women had been accused of witchcraft and then were murdered.

Witches. Mules.

Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was arrested in 2009. She was in her sixties. The charge was that she engaged in unorthodox healing methods. She charged people as much as $800 a session for … the claim of a cure. There is no way of knowing if this was, indeed, a fraud or if Nasser believed in her methods. She was never given the chance to explain. Instead, she was deemed “a danger to Islam”, and that was that.

Janice Bronwyn Linden was a thirty-five year old South African woman, from KwaZulu Natal, who was arrested in 2008 for smuggling three kilograms of crystal methamphetamine. The South African government tried to intervene, tried to appeal to the Chinese government for clemency. As is the practice in China, Linden was not informed of her impending execution until the morning of the day she was to die. Her family is distraught and despondent. South Africa, at least according to discussions in online forums and newspapers, is divided as to the execution. Many feel Linden deserved her fate. Why? She was a mule. She smuggled drugs into China. She should have known better. She `chose’ her path. She was a mule.

In Mozambique, in the district of Marromeu in the province of Sofala, women elders are under attack. A group of women elders, mulheres da terceira idade, women of the third stage, explained that when young men encounter failure, in work, in school, in life, they blame the elder women, they charge them with witchcraft, and then, filled with righteous indignation, they murder them. The women asked: “Estas situações estão a ser frequentes na nossa sociedade . Será que possuir 50 anos de idade deve constituir motivo para a idosa ser considerada feiticeira e condenada à morte?” “These situations are becoming common in our society. Is being old sufficient reason for being considered a witch and being condemned to death?”

Witches. Mules. These are terms that legitimate the murder of women. And they are terms of the current period, our period. They are the names of what is becoming common in our society. The real story is not crime but women’s power and audacity, “the struggle between orthodox men of the Establishment and an unorthodox woman making claims on forms of social power and authority. Ms. Nasir was low on the social hierarchy but making claims to high status by virtue of magical gifts. She posed not so much a danger to Islam as a danger to the authority of the clerics.”

The real crime is the witch-hunt. Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser. Janice Bronwyn Linden. The sixteen women elders. They are neither witches nor mules. They are women. Remember that.


(Photo Credit: South Africa History On Line)