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090309-1854-memotodeath1.jpgThe global and national trend is unmistakable and, let’s hope, irresistible: the death penalty is on the way out and increasingly confined to authoritarian/theocratic states and lawless regions controlled by criminal bands.

In case you missed it, yesterday’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully lauds Nebraska’s courageous repeal vote from last week and urges North Carolina to get on board with this encouraging and fast-growing bandwagon. Here’s the excellent conclusion to the N&O essay:

“The death penalty also smacks of revenge punishment, something to give satisfaction to the family and friends of a murder victim. That’s not what the court system is about. It is about justice, not revenge.

And to argue, as many politicians have over many decades, that the death penalty is important because it is a deterrent to crime is simply disingenuous. It’s political convenience, because there’s little evidence to show a connection between the establishment of the death penalty and a decrease in crime. States without the death penalty have lower murder rates than those with it.

Sadly, North Carolina’s Republicans continue to lead the state away from enlightened thought on the issue. Legislators now are moving to restart stalled executions in the state by eliminating the requirement that a doctor be present.

North Carolina’s People of Faith Against the Death Penalty offered a good summation here: “It is no longer conservative to support the death penalty – it’s just outdated. The legislators in Nebraska voted their consciences. They voted their values. They value life and creation and justice for all and recognize that the death penalty is, in fact, contrary to these values.”

It has been more than 40 years since a state acted to abolish the death penalty. Let us hope Nebraska’s action will be followed by other states sooner than that.”

Also, be sure to check out this op-ed from Fridays’ Asheville Citizen-Times in which a contributor explains his own evolving views on the death penalty.

Commentary

The momentum for abolition continues to build. Yesterday, the legislature of the red state of Nebraska voted overwhelmingly to abolish the death penalty and today, arch-conservative hero George Will told us why it was a good idea:

“The conservative case against capital punishment, which 32 states have, is threefold. First, the power to inflict death cloaks government with a majesty and pretense of infallibility discordant with conservatism. Second, when capital punishment is inflicted, it cannot later be corrected because of new evidence, so a capital punishment regime must be administered with extraordinary competence. It is, however, a government program. Since 1973, more than 140 people sentenced to death have been acquitted of their crimes (sometimes by DNA evidence), had the charges against them dismissed by prosecutors or have been pardoned based on evidence of innocence. For an unsparing immersion in the workings of the governmental machinery of death, read “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, executive director and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Third, administration of death sentences is so sporadic and protracted that their power to deter is attenuated. And the expensive, because labyrinthine, legal protocols with which the judiciary has enveloped capital punishment are here to stay. Granted, capital punishment could deter: If overdue library books were punishable by death, none would be overdue. But many crimes for which death is reserved, including Tsarnaev’s crime of ideological premeditation, are especially difficult to deter.

Those who favor capital punishment because of its supposed deterrent effect do not favor strengthening that effect by restoring the practice of public executions. There has not been one in America since 1937 (a hanging in Galena, Mo.) because society has decided that state-inflicted deaths, far from being wholesomely didactic spectacles, are coarsening and revolting.

Revulsion is not an argument, but it is evidence of what former chief justice Earl Warren called society’s “evolving standards of decency.” In the essay ‘Reflections on the Guillotine,’ Albert Camus wrote, ‘The man who enjoys his coffee while reading that justice has been done would spit it out at the least detail.’ Capital punishment, say proponents, serves social catharsis. But administering it behind prison walls indicates a healthy squeamishness that should herald abolition.”

Commentary

Today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File does a great job of exposing the downright craziness of the latest proposal to revive the death penalty in North Carolina and, in particular, the notion that we should keep the nature of the “drug cocktail” used to kill people a secret. Here’s Chris:

“States that still execute people can’t figure out how to do it and innocent people continue to be released from death row every year.

Simply making the process a secret to speed it up is not the answer. Henry McCollum is living proof of that.”

Of course, it could be that Chris is thinking too narrowly. Maybe this whole secrecy business is just what the doctor ordered (no pun intended). After all, once they succeed in keeping the secret death sauce contents away from prying public eyes, the obvious next step for death penalty supporters will be to keep the means of death itself a secret.

Yeah, that’s the ticket! Instead of sentencing people to “death by lethal injection,” we can just start sentencing them to “death by whatever handy means are readily available.”

And then, after the public gets used to that, we can simply sentence the condemned to “disappear.” Maybe we could even contract the job out to hyper-efficient private companies to save the taxpayers time, money and hassle. I’ll bet we can find some great offshore vendors to handle the contract.

Commentary

State lawmakers made up for a sluggish (and, at times, even moderately encouraging) start to the 2015 session last night by passing a raft of dreadful and regressive bills that will continue North Carolina’s slide back into the pack of old confederate states that it once sought to lead.

Here are just a few of the lowlights of yesterday’s House and Senate sessions:

#1 – A bill that seeks to severely weaken the state’s Environmental Protection Act by dramatically reducing the number of public projects that will be subjected to an environmental review. This was the response of the watchdogs at the Sierra Club:

“We regret the disservice this legislation does to North Carolina’s environment and taxpayers alike. What’s troubling is that the House pushed this legislation through without any study or review of the impacts on the use of public funds and public lands.

There is no good reason to strike this historic environmental protection law. North Carolinians are looking for more transparency and accountability from leaders on the use of public funds – not less.”

#2- A bill to jump start executions by, among other things,  removing the requirement that physicians be present and shrouding in secrecy the drug cocktail that will be used to kill the condemned.

#3- A bill that would require teaching public school history students a list of so-called “founding principles” that are really just part of a the political agenda of a Koch Brothers-funded group.

#4 – A bill to weaken the state’s renewable energy requirement for electricity generators. According to WRAL.com:

“The proposal introduced Wednesday night as an amendment to House Bill 760, a regulatory reform measure, would cap the REPS requirement at 6 percent permanently and would allow a utility to claim energy-efficiency savings for up to half of that requirement. Power companies could seek reimbursement from ratepayers for any investments or contracts they’ve already entered into in order to meet the higher renewables requirements that the proposal repeals.

The measure would also repeal an 80 percent property tax break that solar farms and facilities currently receive.”

#5 – A Senate bill to make felons out of kids 16 or older who commit assaults on teachers or school volunteers. The bill passed despite the passionate opposition of Senator Erica Smith-Ingram who told an emotional and personal story of a confrontation she had with a student while teaching high school and how keeping the student out of the criminal system had, in effect, saved his life.

There were many other counter-productive bills advanced yesterday (and a few promising ones — most notably the proposal to partially rein in the misclassification of workers by bad actor employers). Stay tuned for more updates throughout the day as we sift through the “Crossover Day” results.

Commentary

It should be quite a session when the House Judiciary I Committee gathers this morning at 8:30 in the state Legislative Building. Among the four bills on the agenda for the one-hour meeting:

  • A proposal (sponsored by Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer — the sponsor of last week’s anti-abortion legislation) that would further relax the state’s already minimal gun laws to repeal handgun background checks, force private businesses to allow guns in parking lots, allow concealed carry permits for misdemeanants, and allow guns at the State Fair (click here for more info), and
  • A proposal to speed up executions in the state.

Meanwhile, just to add a little icing to the cake, the committee is also scheduled to take up a bill that would facilitate the hiring of private companies to provide police services in counties and municipalities.

Got it? More guns, more executions and more for-proft police. In other words, the nation’s gradual transformation into a banana republic on steroids continues apace.