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It's Murder, I Tells Ya!

Tom Degan: We could kill Mark David Chapman tonight at sunset. John Lennon will still be just as dead as he was when the white sheet was placed over his face on December 8, 1980.
George Junius Stinnett

George Junius Stinney

"The executioner's face is always well hidden." --Bob Dylan

See that person in the photograph at the top of the page? His name was George Stinney. On March 23, 1944, he was arrested for the killing of two little girls, Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 8. What evidence did the authorities of Clarendon County South Carolina have for charging George with their murders? That's a no brainer: The victims were white. No white person could possibly have committed such a heinous crime - and young George was the closest available negro.

On June 16, 1944, 81 days after the girls' bludgeoned bodies were found in a muddy creek, George Junius Stinney Jr. was strapped into the electric chair and executed by the nice folks of the state of South Carolina.

He was 14 years old.

Now listen, folks, I understand that our culture has this positively religious obsession with killing black people, and I've got no problem with that. Honest! I am white. For me, apathy is a cinch! But it would seem to me that we ought to have a second or third look into our positively sick love affair with the entire idea of capital punishment....Okay, I'll level with you. I was just being facetious. I've got a HUGE problem with this.

The recent execution of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia - for a murder he was more than likely innocent of - has me thinking once more about this incredibly nasty topic. It was hammered home once again just a few days before Troy's death, at one of the GOP debates, when certain "Christians" in the audience cheered when NBC's Brian Williams pointed out the fact that Governor Rick Perry has presided over more executions that any other governor since the Civil War. There was a palpable blood lust emanating from this mob.

"Blessed are the merciful
For they shall obtain mercy."
--Jesus of Nazareth

Indeed. It's not as if I speak from a position of ignorance. I've had friends and loved ones who were murdered. Screaming for vengeance - and even getting it - would not have done my soul any good whatsoever. I think Christ was onto something there.

john lennon

We could kill Mark David Chapman tonight at sunset. John Lennon will still be just as dead as he was when the white sheet was placed over his face on December 8, 1980. Chapman might be a murderous psychopath, but killing him would have been pointless. Every public statement John ever made tells me that he would have agreed with me on this point.

Has anybody here seen my old friend Lennon? Can you tell me where he's gone?


Well, yeah! That's the card American society has dealt itself. I'm an American. What the hell; I'm gonna play it to win.

But I'm playing more than the race card - much more. With respect to capital punishment, the more appropriate thing to call it would be the class card. Sure, you're much more likely to get murdered by the state if you're African American. They are killed in higher percentages than whites. Don't deny it. But it's more than race that's involved here.

In this country they only kill the poor and the middle class. When was the last time you heard of a rich guy being chauffeured down the Last Mile? Come to think of it, I'm not aware of it ever happening.

OJ Simpson viciously killed two people! Despite his obvious and undeniable blackness, he was never even considered for lethal injection! Simpson - although not born into the white power structure - was a "token" member of it. We can't be setting any precedents now, can we? Say, by the way, what ever became of that guy?

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And don't come back with the argument that the wealthy don't kill. They do kill. They kill all the time. They kill every day. They kill for sport. They kill for pleasure. They kill for fun. And unlike the poor, whom - when they do kill - usually do it one human being at a time; the wealthy kill in astronomical numbers. Have you visited Iraq lately? Let's hear it for the Halliburton and the Bush Mob! An estimated one million Iraqi men, women, and little children are dead at their - our - hands. Whoopee.

And remember this: No poor person in the history of humanity has ever been accused of genocide. Think about it.

It would seem to me that the only time black people are spared the death penalty in this sick country is when they kill other black people. That's different, That's cool. Can you see the murderous hypocrisy here?

Every other country in the Western world has done away with this barbaric, medieval practice. (Although there is a cabal of extremists in merrie olde England who have started a movement to bring it back. There are a heck of a lot of brown people living in London, you know!) Why the hell are we the last holdouts? What the hell is the matter with us?

You want to cut back on spending? ELIMINATE THE DEATH PENALTY! By doing so, we would save the states untold billions per decade. How much do you think it cost the state of Georgia to keep Troy Davis on death row between 1989 and 2011? I don't have the numbers in front of me but it had to be a couple of million - maybe even more than a couple. Now multiply that number by 2,300, which is roughly the current number waiting to be put to death. By doing away with the death penalty, we would save a fortune. Cut back on spending? Can we talk???

But maybe there are some things, expensive as they may be, that feel too good for some of us to give up. There is a connection here to be made to certain American "traditions" that are ominous and disturbing. Right up until the middle of the twentieth century, lynching was perfectly legal - even honored - in certain regions of this country.

Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Bradley

Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Bradley

It was not uncommon for the "gentlemen" of a community to gather 'round some old oak tree on the outside of town to enjoy the spectacle of some poor bastard being strung up by his neck. The crime often involved the violation of some stupid racial taboo. There were a lot of stupid racial taboos in 1955 - North and South.

I am reminded of Emmett Till who on August 28 of that year was brutally beaten to death for allegedly flirting with a white woman. He was visiting cousins in Mississippi at the time of his murder. When his body was bought back to Chicago for his funeral, his mother insisted on an open coffin for her son. She wanted everyone - with the stomach for it - to view her boy's bruised, bloated and bloodied face. She wanted the world to behold what hate had done to her child.

By the way, like George Junius Stinney, Emmett Till was all of fourteen-years-old. Isn't that sweet?

Lynchings are no longer legal. But at least an execution gives certain people the pleasure of gathering outside the death house, awaiting the executioner's light signaling that the condemned man (or woman - remember Karla Faye Tucker) has been killed. It's not nearly as much fun as watching a fellow human being's eyes bulging out if their sockets, desperate for breath - But hey! - it's all they've got!

But seriously folks....

It's not very likely that the death penalty is going to be abolished any time soon - not with the Roberts Court anyway. If the next president is a Republican and is allowed two or three more appointments to that body, it will be decades before it is gone forever from the American legal system. The recent case of Troy Davis has caused many of us to pause for a moment of reflection.

Most of the "eyewitnesses" who testified against him later recanted their testimonies, saying the police coerced them into identifying Troy as the man who murdered Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail.

Troy Anthony Davis was probably innocent - but the state went through with his execution anyway. People of conscience - on both sides of the capital punishment debate - are troubled by what was done to Troy Davis.

Maybe this is the beginning of the end. Maybe.

Tom Degan
The Rant