Injustice by Virtue of Justice
How Long Has This Been Going On?
Well, the Gershwins might have had something else in mind, but the same phrase fits the issue. The older I get, the more I learn about prisoners being freed after enduring a lengthy sentence for something they did not do. I also repeatedly hear about prisoners wasting away on Death Row, then executed, or on the brink of execution, and then defended, dead or alive, by a writer (or songwriter, in the case of Rubin Carter, aka Hurricane) who champions their cause. Once I heard (from a pool cleaner in Florida -- what better source is there?) that freed prisoners, very often in rape cases, are released due to payoffs. This is hard to argue with since it appears, prima facie, to make so much sense. We live in a monetarily crazy environment. Many work hard and harder for less and lesser. It stands to reason. But that is another injustice toward which I am not now focused. In Hitchcock's The Wrong Man of 1956, a musician played by Henry Fonda who resembled somebody else was sent up river. At least an explanation was readily available that only went so far as the fragility of human judgment. Other cases are literally insane.
It does not take extensive research to get the feeling, right or wrong, that the criminal justice system is often enough at fault. First, some get away with crimes. Second, others are blamed for them. The good news is that mishaps are the exception, not the rule. But for victims, there is no consolation. In any case, I am basically addressing a specific instance that sheds doubt on the overall accuracy of the whole shebang. Less than a week ago I found a book about an ambiguous execution at the Milwaukee bookstore inside the city airport. It was in the religion section, not true crime or sociology. Always willing to play the Renaissance Man, I endeavored to read with an open mind. However, I also downloaded a book by A. W. Pink On the Sovereignty of God (into that, too), gambling on a remote hope that the one would shed light on the other. The Verdict: difficult to ascertain.
The Religious POV
Hardly anyone reads the books written by the old fire and brimstone preachers of various denominations I routinely find on You Tube, but The Sovereignty of God provides some insight into how fatal imperfections continue to exist in due process. One need look no further than the Book of Job with which to start. It is with the permission of God that Satan is allowed to bring Job to ruin. The analogy breaks down, of course, since most cases, if they involve capital punishment, depending upon state laws, end in execution, not a blessed restoration. Further, though much easier said than done, no true Christian believes life must end in death. In point of fact, this life or the world, if you will, exists only for the purpose of providing a proving ground. At least that is the most I can make of it. It is not, however, irrelevant. Prisoners on Death Row are alone in a cell for 23 of 24 hours and must, I imagine, do quite a bit of thinking, both inside and outside the box. Dominique Green himself, the subject of study, observed how several inmates simply lost their minds. As his own execution date approached, he admitted being unable to achieve mental stability.
Now, Thomas Cahill had his own reasons for writing Green up. The core of the piece is a grim nighttime event during which a man was robbed of $50 in a convenience store parking lot and shot dead with one of those 9 millimeter semi-automatic handguns that are so popular. Green was 18. He was put to death at 30. True enough, his appointed lawyer had difficulty staying awake during the trial. Racial bias might also have played a part since a member of the group on the robbing spree was white and let go. But I cannot address the legalities, not having been a part of the legal process, only a concerned citizen trailing at quite a distance, long after the fact. Then, as I dug into Pink's discourse, I realized that God still allows Satan power, or so it would seem. Pink's main subject had to do with election, how and why some go on to eternal life while others are destined (or predestined) for eternal damnation. One could, if the facts added up, put the unfairly executed in the first and much more desirable category. But there is no way to know, though Cahill was himself convinced a kind of martyrdom had taken place. He is an excellent writer, if I might let myself off the hook through this escape hatch. That is good to know in a period of time during which the stockpile of authorial rock stars from the relatively recent past seem not to have replaced or replenished.
Do You Believe in the Death Penalty?
Famous Cases et. al.
Sacco and Vanzetti, deemed anarchists, executed in 1927, come to mind, as well as others. But the vast majority are like fireflies. Their names and photos appear in the paper, then vanish for an eternity. No one remembers the all-night vigil and the placards except the participants. Usually, the legal death of innocents, unless one does not believe in its frequency, entails hate and bias. For this reason, Desmond Tutu, in Thomas Cahill's A Saint on Death Row, cannot reconcile American generosity and vindictiveness (p. 84). Then again, I realize that today is the 4th of July. It hardly matters except we owe it to ourselves if nothing else to get it right if capital punishment is to be preserved. Plenty of states do without. The picture above refers at the very least to the Rosenbergs, who were tried, convicted, and executed in the early 1950s. What had they done? They were accused of delivering sensitive data to the U.S.S.R., especially in regard to the atomic bomb. I am a great appreciator of spy stories. But who has time to make perfect sense of the dark secrets buried in Los Alamos? As to the Rosenbergs, the case against them was never translucent. Further, the witchhunts were getting into full swing. Speaking of which, I almost included a photo of J.Robert Oppenheimer, in charge of the whole operation. He was also thought to have had links to the U.S.S.R., though never charged, or, it goes without saying, executed. Now, our presidents are getting chummy with the immovable leader of the Russian Federation. You know what they say . . . at the end of the day, Russians are still Communists.
All of which I present and editorialize to show how delicate the situation can become, going from a petty theft gone bad to international relations veiled in secrecy. Just today, our President and the Russian President met in secret. Well, there are crimes and there are crimes, something Cahill in his heartfelt book does not delve into. It is just as well. We live not next door to the unknown but well within its obscure confines. Perhaps being so uninformed justifies a turn toward religion rather than away from it, as is, so they say, the common trend. Prisons, they also say (I know, who are they?), are filled with bibles. It stands to reason. Some incarcerated lives turn very, very serious. In the course of the commission of a heinous crime, or payment for same without having even acted, there is nowhere else to look except toward judgment that surpasses the fallible. In addition to the above, whose names come from memory, there is Mary Surratt, hanged in 1861 for a role in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. I had to look her up, as well as Gary Gilmore, to refresh my flagging memory. His execution by gunfire in Utah was one of the more memorable events from the vacuous 1970s, owing to the condemned's verbal complicity to just get the deed over and done with.
The Death Penalty
I only just read Timothius on Tarnished Stars and Stripes, which, here at home on Hubpages, relates to the matter at hand. I was glad the action, robbery at gunpoint, took place in Texas, permitting me a measure of objectivity. Had it been NYC, I might have felt a residual prejudice, since the time I spent there included a constant, conscious effort to survive. Nevertheless, I would not have read the entire book centered on the case without an additional measure of solidarity with those who oppose the death penalty. The legalities, to the extent I could comprehend them, seem needlessly complex. They do not to my mind lead inexorably to execution. Likewise, there is, to me, no reason to liken Green to a saint, except by way of a wordy theological argument I nonetheless would not argue with. It is impossible to know for certain about whom we might petition, being, one can only guess, close to God.
But such is religion, not law. Laws should be more straightforward. Not even a shadow of a doubt could be established? All the same, lofty arguments are often intentionally presented in the abstract, so there again, I could not say. It is just that I cannot rubber stamp any decision in favor of lethal injection. I hasten to add, I am not leftwing in all things. I am, for instance, against abortion. Abortion is murder. It still does not warrant the death penalty. Abortion was a hot topic at one time. Now, it is next to zero. Today, as drums are beating for the sake of a new war, breathlessly awaited unlike any other, it also seems rather irresponsible to assume we are on God's side, owing to such trifles as putting people down who might just as easily be imprisoned. If it really comes to war, I will put my faith in superior firepower rather than divine decree. There are nations much more devout than America but lack weaponry. I hardly think our arsenal is merely a factor, something North Korea might want to consider.
From the National Museum of Crime and Punishment
Certainly Dominique Green would be alive today had he come from a different state. Which one? If this is not crazy, what is? In Texas you die; in Illinois, you get three meals and a mattress. I tend to think regionally. In other words, the grass is greener -- somewhere else, at any rate. In fact, Texas might be bringing capital crimes on itself; the same, it appears, as Illinois, to be fair. There is more shooting in Chicago than Houston, I'd be willing to bet. Ever since the publication of In Cold Blood in 1966, no one, however, can doubt that it happens anywhere. What makes America so violent? It is partly perception. Just living here causes one to always be mindful to an elevated degree.
Anyway, Green is dead. Did he do it? Who knows? The book will not tell you. The movies, however, sometimes make a point of calling the deceased in a murder scenario "a human being". I like that. It is more than we are thought of all the time throughout the course of a single day. Nice to know, I should think, beforehand. If it should come to this. As far as debating gun control, I prefer not to.