This is where we part company, I’m afraid. I know from long standing polls that most of you are pro-death penalty. For most of my life I was there with you but I changed my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I still have the conviction that the government has the right and the duty to execute duly convicted criminals. I just don’t believe this government should exercise that right. Not the federal government. Not any of the 50 state governments in this U.S. of A. Events of the last week only further rooted me in my anti-capital punishment stance.
President of the People Who Think He Was Lawfully elected, Joe Biden, signed an international death sentence for untold numbers of babies to be financed by my taxes. He and his Montreal, Hindu, Jamaican, South Asian, anything but black American Vice President are big supporters of the murder cartel known as Planned Parenthood. Right there I know the supposed leaders of our federal government can’t discern guilt from innocence. It’s been that way since 1973.
Also, this past week, FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith was sentenced to 12 months probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $100 fine for the mere crime of forging documents for a warrant to surveil an American sentence as if he was a spy for a hostile foreign power. You know what the punishment for treason is don’t you? Death. Under the color of authority Kevin Clinesmith put a fellow citizen ( who was actually spying on behalf of the United States) on the path towards a firing squad. He got community service.
I finally and full changed my mind in 2018. What follows is something I wrote at the time to memorialize my decision. I never published it but it still reflects my thinking. I’m bringing it out of my desktop folder today because even though more people are now aware of the comprehensive corruption in our government I think it still fits.
I know three men doing time for murder. They got twenty-five to life.
They all may be out now depending on how closely the state of California adheres to the twenty-five and how much cash it has on hand to finance the life. I don’t know.
One of them is my cousin. I’m not going to talk about him.
One is a guy I grew up with who, at the age of eight, lost his father to a gunfight over a kids’ marble game gone wrong. Yes, true. Everyone called him Rabbit. I don’t remember exactly why but it probably had to do with his two large front teeth and the fact that he was generally as harmless as a furry bunny. He had a sweet shyness borne by his stuttering. Rabbit was perpetually in the wrong place with the wrong crowd at the wrong time. He had it hard growing up and got sucked into the vortex of poverty, drug money and drug crime. On two occasions I went with a friend to visit Rabbit in prison. I never made it to the visiting area. I cheesed out both times. I couldn’t see Rabbit that way. I was (am) in a guilty disbelief that the nice kid who was my neighbor ended up behind bars while I — the typical raging, ignorant, and aggressive youth — had not.
The third is a guy I’ll call Mike. I’ll tell you about him. I only knew Mike in high school and only through the basketball team. We had no classes together. Mike did the world’s best impersonation of long time L.A. Lakers announcer, Chick Hearn, and could act out a melancholy Dr. David Banner complete with whistling the Incredible Hulk television show theme music. Before practice guys on the team would make requests for each impression ( Mike, do Chick calling a game with the Lakers down 20. Mike, do David Banner hitchhiking) and Mike would comply. We’d be literally on the gym floor nearly in tears from laughter. Mike was reserved and watchful normally but when he got into his alter egos he was stupefyingly funny.
Mike was poor. I mean so poor that he aspired to broke because broke would imply that once he might have had a dollar or two. He was same clothing all week at school poor. Borrowed clothes and shoes to wear to an awards banquet poor. No front door on his house poor. I don’t think anyone in any line of his family ever owned a thing.
Mike was good natured. On the bus rides to games when we’d fill the time by teasing (capping we called it) each other you could cap on Mike’s abject poverty, the shape of his head, the deep space darkness of his skin or his dead man’s eyes and he’d laugh with the rest of us. Off limits were his sister and his dad. And you respected Mike’s limits because, well, temper isn’t the right word, but when you crossed one of Mike’s lines he went from calm to shockingly violent in one twitch. He could control it sometimes, but barely.
We got a new coach the summer before my junior year. He was a short, stocky white guy from Minnesota. He looked like Mr. Topsy-Turvy. In his first address to our nearly all black team (11 of 12 and the 1 was a very brown Cuban no one really believed was Cuban) he told us he didn’t like rap music and didn’t want us playing it in the gym or locker room and that he’d supply the music — Bruce Springsteen only. Told us he didn’t want us playing “street ball” and that he’d teach us to play the “right way”. No run and gun stuff. We’d be disciplined. He was a Celtics fan and Larry Bird was the best player in the league because he was smarter and worked harder than all the other players. Even though it was coded we all got the message loud and clear and hard. I looked around the semi-circle we had formed around this clueless and deeply stupid man and I knew I was trying to make the same calculation everyone else was: Would Mike coldcock this dude before he quit the team or would he leave quietly?
Two practices later we got our answer when Coach Archie Bunker brought up Mike’s dad in reference to Mike making a “lazy” play. Mike’s lean, six foot, six inch, mass of coiled muscle went rigid and all basketball activity ceased. We knew high noon was at hand. He strode purposefully from the free throw line to where Coach Bunker was standing at half court. Coach had the look of a man who knew it was too late for last rites to be read. Mike stopped walking about six inches from coach’s chest and put his index finger right on the point of Bunker’s nose. He snarled a tense, two word exclamatory sentence and continued out of the gym. After Mike nearly slammed the gym door off its hinges upon his exit, practice resumed and we didn’t hear a whistle or a suggestion from coach the rest of the day. Of course, Mike was back on the team within a week. He had a lethal turnaround jumper that he could get off against anyone and Coach Bunker was hired to win games after all. Mike publicly apologized to the team and to coach. That was his good side. Accountable. Aware of his anger and doing his best to control it. There were no more flare ups between Mike and coach.
A few months before that episode I also was witness to when Mike didn’t control it. We had been playing basketball at lunch. The bell rung and it was time to get to class. We went to the nearest water fountain and got in line. We were standing behind a white boy with long red hair who had his entire head under the spigot drenching himself in the stream of water. He stood up and shook his locks as if he were filming a shampoo commercial — unwittingly spraying water all over Mike. Mike had enormous hands. I think he could cover a dart board from pinkie to thumb if he stretched his hand hard enough. He put one those hands on the oblivious boy’s shoulder and turned him around. I’m sure Mike’s shark black eyes set in his scowling ebony face registered as the Grim Reaper himself to the poor kid.
“Sorry,” the wet faced offender whispered.
“Too late,” came the reply.
Mike’s humongous left hand was already balled into a fist and cocked. He rocketed it toward the poor red head’s face. The meteoric impact sent his brain and brain pan in opposite directions. The ginger was out before his body hit the blacktop.
There was no way I was going to be on the scene when the authorities arrived. Although I’m an above average liar and like to play the ham I wouldn’t be able to fake blindness. I’d have to testify against Mike. In my mind bravery was for Jimmy Stewart Westerns, so with a sudden thirst for knowledge I sprinted to my next class. I thought Mike ran, too. I found out the next day he hadn’t when my buddy, Chris, told me Mike was suspended. I asked who snitched while in my mind praying Mike didn’t think it was me and also praying for the poor soul who did blab.
“Nobody snitched,” Chris told me, “Mike went and got security and told them what he did.”
After high school, when his shot at playing college basketball didn’t work out, Mike went on to become a foot soldier in the drug wars for turf that raged in the streets of greater Los Angeles. He killed a couple of people. I don’t mean that as a throwaway line or passing detail. Two people had their lives ended unjustly in terror and panic probably. I hate what he did. It was a wrong that had to be paid for whether I was fond of the criminal who committed it or not. I don’t remember if Mike turned himself in or if the police had to go looking for him but I know he owned what he did.
The last time I saw Mike was a day or two before he headed out to Utah to play college ball. He wasn’t excited. He was doubtful and mostly silent.
“I’ll give it a shot,” he told me, “but I’ll probably be back soon.”
I wished him luck and told him no one could get to his shot. He’d make it big and I’d never see him again. True to my benediction, I haven’t.
Accountable. Wrong, frequently and to the physical danger of many, but always accountable. That was Mike.
I have always held a painful sentimentality for the murderers in my life. But that never stopped me from being in favor of the death penalty. No, it was the arrogance of the State that did that. It was the Good Guy – Bad Guy Venn Diagram that had way too much overlap for me to ignore. It was an overdue self-examination of my unquestioned support of government authority to end life when I simultaneously held the view that the government did not have the competence to deliver mail or teach a kid how to read even if it had a monopoly to do both. It was the murderers in my life who went away meekly under the unbearable weight of their admitted guilt who forced the introspection of my contradictions.
How often does the State own its mistakes? The correct answer is: Never without a scandal first. Let’s do a brief review of a few of our sovereign states.
Illinois has at least made an effort to atone for its malfeasance. It had no choice. It reinstated the death penalty in 1977. From 1977 to 2000, when the governor imposed a moratorium on executions, Illinois executed twelve men. Thirteen men on death row were exonerated. Seven more were exonerated after 2000. Potentially going 12 for 32 when the issue is life or death is beyond inexcusable. Yet, without the efforts and agitation of groups outside the political system prompting the state into auditing its practices, Illinois was on track to kill twenty innocent — innocent at least of the charged crime — people. That is not crime and punishment. That is a murder spree usually associated with sociopaths. It is a Kafka-esque tyranny that can flourish in the shadows because most of us never have to face the business end of the State’s killing apparatus.
And I wonder about those twelve that went to the chair . . .
In Massachusetts, state chemist, Annie Dookhan, was paroled last year after serving three years for evidence tampering and obstruction of justice. That’s the polite way of stating it. What she did was frame people. People went to jail because substances she never tested she still represented to prosecutors as being illegal drugs. She added cocaine to substances in order to get a positive test that would support criminal charges made by the state. She lied under oath. Over twenty-thousand drug convictions were thrown out because of her involvement in the cases. Hundreds of people had their lives irreparably harmed because of one out of control state employee.
Well, not just one. Annie had a co-worker, Sonja Farak. Sonja was a junkie and she used the state of Massachusetts’ evidence room as her supply. Sonja said she used crack, cocaine and meth at work. Daily. Along with LSD, ecstasy and a few other drugs while helping Massachusetts send people to jail for using illegal drugs. She tampered with evidence, too, then she smoked it. She went away to the big house for 18 months in 2014. Massachusetts has about 29,000 potential wrongful convictions on its hands thanks to its druggie employee. I said “about” because the state attorney general investigating Farak at the time apparently was not forthcoming with what its investigation was discovering. Now there is an investigation of the investigation.
Accountability is not a strong suit of government but at least after twenty years or so it will get around to firing people who are threats to the life and liberty of its citizens. As in Oklahoma, where after two decades of lying about evidence and sending men to prison and death row, the state finally fired police chemist, Joyce Gilchrist, in 2001 after the FBI called her work into question. Due to Gilchrist’s falsified DNA evidence Jeffery Pierce, among many others, spent 15 years in prison for a sexual assault he didn’t commit. David Bryson did 17 years for rape and kidnapping. He was innocent. Curtis McCarthy spent 20 years on death row thanks to Gilchrist. He was freed in 2011. Gilchrist herself, who died in 2015 at the age of 67, never spent a day in jail. Hell, she was never charged with any wrongdoing. She spent her last days working for a candle making company in Houston. Did she light a few, I wonder, for some poor souls who remain undiscovered and imprisoned because of her malefic reign in the Oklahoma City police department?
There are another 18 states with corrupt drug and evidence labs and the FBI itself to cover but I’ll stop with California where my murderous friends did their crimes. In Riverside County (where Rabbit was incarcerated) the case of Johnny Baca was thrown out because the prosecutor presented false evidence and lied under oath. No charges were brought against him. Reviewing an appeal of the case, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judge, Alex Kosinski, made this remarkable statement, “[Prosecutors] got caught this time but they are going to keep doing it because they have state judges who are willing to look the other way.”
How far away are they willing to look? A 2010 study by the Northern California Innocent Project reported 707 cases in an 11 year period in which state courts found prosecutorial misconduct. Only six of the prosecutors were disciplined and the courts upheld 80% of the convictions despite the misconduct.
In 2015, in the county next to Riverside, misconduct in the Orange County district attorney’s office was said to be at “epidemic” levels. All 250 Orange County prosecutors were disqualified from a capital murder case because of the department wide involvement in suppressing exculpatory evidence in over three dozen cases. Perjury and obstruction of justice is the charge you or I would receive had we acted in the same manner. It turns out the Orange County sheriff’s department was keeping secret jail records and off the books informants to gather illegal confessions. They denied having such a system and the prosecutors helped them maintain the lie.
In 2018, the DA, Tony Rackauckas, was still in office. He ran for re-election and actually garnered votes.
There is too much gray on those white hats for my taste.
“Too late” from the State comes only after a person’s life has been wrecked by loss of liberty, loss of standing, or the of ability to find meaningful employment after release. And who holds them accountable? Us? The public who thinks getting raped in prison is a fitting punishment or punch line? The public who overwhelmingly Backs the Blue to the point of idolatry? The public who reflexively holds prosecutors in high esteem (did you ever root against the fictional prosecutors on Law & Order?) and judges them at the polls on their won/loss record like starting pitchers? The public who derides the Johnnie Cochrans of the world while comfortable thinking we nor anyone we know will need someone like him?
No, not us. We won’t do it because we rarely hold the government to account for anything — not endless war, not unpayable debt amassed on the backs of future Americans so we can be fat and happy today. That’s just the federal level. In state after state and municipality after municipality the fiscal backbone of public finances is broken on the rack of public pensions. Politicians negotiate crippling monetary agreements with their donors — public sector unions — in the broad daylight and we mostly don’t say a word. It’s not clear we even understand that to be a problem. Police, firemen, teachers and prison guards all break the public piggy bank over and over and all we do in our pornified, alcoholized, and fantasy sports induced stupor is ratify the process every election. Then we carp at the rise in sales or property taxes.
We are the callous, negligent and fatuous people who vote in governments with the power to determine who lives and who dies. Since in a democracy we are the rulers we share some of the blame for all those lost lives and lost years.
Ready to take responsibility? No, I didn’t think so.
We can’t because we can only see one side of the accountability equation. This is a power mad society and we worship authority. We worship it to the point it is difficult for many who Back the Blue to understand that proper backing of the Blue requires a high standard for someone seeking to wear the Blue and zero tolerance for those who abuse the power the Blue uniform confers upon its wearer. If a member of the Blue says he feared for his safety then shooting, choking, kicking and body slamming “criminals” is not only necessary but positively required.
If you don’t want to get choked to death by a posse of officers don’t sell cigarettes without collecting taxes. If you don’t want to get shot in the back don’t run away from a traffic stop over your broken taillight. If you don’t want to get body slammed and arrested don’t call the police on your neighbor for battering your son. Because if the police are arresting you/beating you/killing you, you must have done something wrong.
The State has the right to execute wrong doers. I don’t argue that. But this State – – built on the consent of people who don’t pay attention – – cannot be trusted to exercise that right. As a confessional Christian and a human being with functioning eyes and ears, I am firm in the conviction that mankind is prone towards wickedness, dishonesty, corruption, avarice and hatred. I don’t believe in the good intentions of the government which is just an amalgamation of fallen humans. I have to be skeptical. I don’t believe in the perfectibility of Man. I’ll forever remain an outsider to your Utopias both Right and Left.
I think we have lost sight of the servant aspect of being a public servant. We are poor masters. We have given them too much power with too little accountability to officers tasked with serving us. More than that we’ve given them the power to unionize and police themselves making it all but impossible to get rid of the scoundrels and villains until well after they have damaged institutions and destroyed lives.
I do believe in accountability. I believe if the State is going to claim a duty to execute then it has a duty to to make sure it’s good guys haven’t switched sides. Give me that for a long, long, long time and I’ll give you back your electric chair.
I changed my mind on the death penalty because I live in a world where the duty of doing right and being right, especially in great matters, is a bar not one of us can clear. That is not misplaced sympathy or softheaded philosophizing. It is taking a step back and regaining the perspective that civil authorities are not the final say. They have power but it is a power on loan.
The murderers in my life weren’t executed but their lives with the rest of us were effectively ended. I think that was enough. I don’t think the State — this dishonest and duplicitous and often criminal State — has any right to add to its death toll.