Saturday, March 16, 2024

#76 / Cruel And Unusual


The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution - one of the ten statements that comprise our "Bill of Rights" - is pretty clear. There is not a lot of excess verbiage: 

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

A little over a year ago, the United Nations passed a resolution urging a moratorium on any future executions, worldwide. The United States joined with North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Iran in voting against that resolution. 

The execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith, on Saturday, January 27, 2024, which took place in Alabama, was, objectively speaking, "unusual." There were only twenty-four death penalty executions in the United States last year. The execution of Smith was also, as an Associated Press news report makes clear, "cruel." 

Marshall, the attorney general, gave prison officials the OK to begin the execution at 7:56 p.m. That was the final confirmation from his office that there were no court orders preventing it from going forward. 
A corrections officer in the chamber approached Smith and checked the side of the mask. 
The Rev. Jeff Hood, Smith’s spiritual advisor took a few steps toward Smith, touched him on the leg and they appeared to pray. 
The Department of Corrections had required Hood to sign a waiver agreeing to stay 3 feet (0.9 meters) away from Smith’s gas mask in case the hose supplying the nitrogen came loose. 
Smith began to shake and writhe violently, in thrashing spasms and seizure-like movements, at about 7:58 p.m. The force of his movements caused the gurney to visibly move at least once. Smith’s arms pulled against the straps holding him to the gurney. He lifted his head off the gurney and then fell back. 
The shaking went on for at least two minutes. Hood repeatedly made the sign of the cross toward Smith. Smith’s wife, who was watching, cried out. 
Smith began to take a series of deep gasping breaths, his chest rising noticeably. His breathing was no longer visible at about 8:08 p.m. The corrections officer who had checked the mask before walked over to Smith and looked at him. 
The curtains were closed to the viewing room at about 8:15.

I think it can be pretty helpful to remember those Bible verses we might have heard in the past - or even those we might be encountering in the present. There are those who believe that what the Bible says is even more important than what the Constitution says - and whether this is someone's personal opinion, or not - many people are familiar with Romans 12:19

 Vengeance Is Mine, Saith The Lord

That line from the Bible does not mean that the Lord wants vengeance, when people do bad things, and that we get a gold star or two when we wreak vengeance ourselves, feeling ourselves quite righteous as we do that. Romans 12:19 means just the opposite. Human vengeance is neither called for nor desired. Let the Lord take care of that. No need for any human intervention. 

Whether you are a Bible-reader, or someone who might more likely look to the Constitution as a guide to what we should do, let's admit that the picture at the very top of this blog posting outlines the policy we should be following. My apologies to Iran, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea for dragging them into a commentary based on provisions in the United States Constitution. The Constitution does not, of course, apply to them. They, too, however, in being associated with the United States of America in voting at the United Nations to perpetuate the death penalty, are on the wrong side.

If you'd like to sign a petition urging an end to the use of nitrogen asphyxiation as a way to put prisoners to death, click right here. If you'd like to know which state executes the most people, it's not Alabama. It's Texas.

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