Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Death To The Penalty

I used to be undecided on whether or not I agreed with the death penalty, and I certainly tried not to think about it too hard because the issue made me feel very uncomfortable. For a long time now I have wanted to 'improve' myself and my knowledge of certain subjects. To evolve perhaps.

Well, through my work with The AIM, and in particular through working with and meeting Capital-"X", I have educated myself and I have formed my opinion. I am against the death penalty in all cases and will fight for it's abolition all over the world.Capital punishment is a hot topic wherever it is used and there are many reasons for and against it, and now I will share mine.

Many pro death penalty campaigners will tell you that the death penalty is an important crime deterrent and without doing any research one could easily believe this to be a logical argument. Except that the figures do not add up. I don't have them, but you can check. It's amazing what the internet can tell you. The state of Texas has the highest execution rate in the US, but also one of the highest crime rates. So, as a deterrent it is not working.

Some will also say that the cost of incarcerating a prisoner is too much for the state to bear, especially when that person has gone against the rules of society and committed sometimes despicable acts. In every single case on record, seeking, securing, maintaining (i.e. overcoming appeals) and carrying out the death penalty costs far more than it costs to care for and imprison a person for life - no matter how long that life may be. Paying for the death penalty prevents funding being used for genuine crime prevention and prisoner rehabilitation programmes.

Pro DP folks will also tell you that the DP is needed for those crimes that are particularly heinous in nature, and this is actually a point that might take me to the other side of the issue. I am by no means 'soft on crime'. I believe in punishment for wrongdoings and wrongdoers, and I do believe that the punishment should fit the crime. But I do not believe that any government has the right to kill. Plus, we as people cannot be trusted to get it right. There are vast inconsistencies in the use of the DP as a sentence, and in the US it's use is blatantly discriminatory - both through the fault of those working within the system, and the system itself. The majority of offenders sentenced to death are non-white, living near or below the poverty line, and have low or no education. An alarming number also have emotional or mental disabilities. Albeit not deliberately and not always knowingly, sentences are decided based on socio-economic factors much more than on the nature of the crime committed. There is no consistency, and that shows a flawed system. (I should point out that I would still be against DP even if there existed a system that was not flawed in it's application of sentences).

Of course, DP is the US is quite different from DP in some other nations such as Iran. There, under Sharia Law, a person can be executed (often without a trial) for so-called 'crimes of virtue'. I would be executed several times over were I unfortunate enough to have been born Iranian instead of British. A person living in a country under under Sharia (Islamic religious) Law can be executed for such crimes as homosexuality and adultery. The barbarity of this is blindly obvious to me, and with the reading and research I have done I see the use of the DP in any country as the same. I cannot get my head around our planets 'leading nation' using such an archaic system.

Some would say that the surviving family and friends of victims of certain crimes want and deserve to have the death penalty used. These people deserve our sympathy, and they deserve a justice system that takes their feelings into account, but these people, and their emotions cannot be used to apply sentences. A fair justice system does is ruled by reason and not emotion. And the idea that a victims loved ones wish to see the offender killed is misguided. I follow a group of family and friends of victims of crime who fight against DP.

Another of my big problems is the rate at which mistakes are made. It is absolutely unacceptable for a person to be sent to jail for any amount of time for a crime that he/she did not commit. The long sentences some have to endure until such a time as they can prove their innocence is life changing, and life taking. There has been more than one instance of a person in the US being executed, and later exonerated. That makes the State a murderer, it makes the Justice System unreliable, and it makes the Death Penalty unacceptable as a form of punishment. There have been 254 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States alone!

Please check some of the links I have included below, and I would love to hear some comments on this issue.

I particularly want to draw your attention to the case of Hank Skinner. With my very limited knowledge of law even I can see this his case is flawed and he is likely to be innocent. He has been protesting as much for over 15 years since being sentenced to death for the murder of his then girlfriend and her sons. During this time he has repeatedly asked for DNA preserved from the scene to be tested as he claims it will prove his innocence. Why would a man even be found guilty, let alone sentenced to death without the DNA from the scene being tested He has so far had all requests denied and is very close to being executed. He has in fact had 2 dates scheduled and on the most recent occasion in March he was granted a stay of execution by the US Supreme Court with only 20 minutes to spare. Apart from the untested DNA, there are other parts of the case that do not add up. A motive has never been found. At the time of his arrest Hank had a large amount of alcohol and codeine in his system. A medical expert has testified that as he is allergic to codeine he would have been too incapacitated to carry out the murders. When arrested he had to be supported by police officers to be able to stand to have his picture taken. Hank has a website and you can read about his case and legal battle here. I would encourage everyone to please read this blog post published by another blogger where Hank writes about that day in March when he was very nearly executed for a crime it is likely he did not commit.

When SCOTUS granted the stay they did agree to test the DNA. A testing facility has agreed to carry out the tests free of charge and within 30 days but permission has not yet been granted. The latest news has been announced just today. It has just been announced to The US Supreme Court will review the request to have DNA tests conducted. This decision to hear the case is a step closer to freedom for Hank, but there is still a long way to go. All they have agreed to do is hear the case and then decide whether to allow the testing. Courts across the US have decided on such cases differently.

This is a case that is very close to my heart and I am truly overjoyed that SCOTUS have agreed to hear the case. It will be argued sometime in the fall and until then Hank remains incarcerated on Death Row. I was so distraught on the day of Hank's scheduled execution and spent hours on social networking sites urging people to phone Texas Governor Rick Perry and urge him to grant a stay. AK and I each called ourselves and we had signed every petition available before then. When the news came with 20 minutes to spare that a stay had been granted I cried so hard it hurt with the relief. Even thinking of it now still brings tears to my eyes and I know I am not prepared for the worst, and the worst may still happen.

Please read up on the case and follow it. Hank Skinner deserves justice and this is only a small step towards it.

For more information please visit the following sites:

National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty
Amnesty International-Abolish the Death Penalty
Death Penalty Information Center
Death Penalty News & Updates
The Innocence Project


In other news, AIM President AK47 has been pretty busy with a number of radio interviews promoting The AIM. The first was with Jill aka Jelly of The Artists Lounge and you can listen to a recording here. It was recorded live on Sunday the 16th May and is episode no 98. This week Lilith called into the show and recited my favourite of her poems so have a listen to that episode as well while you're there. The second interview was with Curry Kid at Off The Top Radio and was pre-recorded and then broadcast in the early hours of Sunday morning. Anyone who missed it can download a recording of AK's segment of the show here. Please have a listen and let us know what you think. You should also listen to OTTR, which is aptly named 'the sound of the struggle' between the hours of Midnight and 6AM Eastern Standard Time for the real Hip-Hop that doesn't normally get played on the radio and progressive social and political commentary. AK47 will be going back on the show in the near future to discuss the launch off The AIM's first political mixtape Lyrical Warfare Volume One which is set to drop in early July. AK47 has a number of interviews still to come and we'll share those details as we get them. A big thanks needs to be said to Street Poet Monte Smith who put AK47 in touch with the wonderful people who have conducted the interviews. It's very much appreciated.

*Santa Maria*
*Vice President of The AIM*

"As if one crime of such nature, done by a single man, acting individually, can be expiated by a similar crime done by all men, acting collectively."
(Lewis Lawes, warden of Sing Sing prison in NY in the 1920s and 30s)

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