Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Death Penalty and the Granite State

First off, let me be clear right up front: I oppose the death penalty. I do so ardently. The deterrent argument is absurd, the poor and minorities are disproportionately subjected to its whims, and the consequences of being wrong, as we increasingly know has happened in recent decades, ought to be unconscionable. And so when I saw that New Hampshire is set
to execute someone for the first time since 1939 I had more than a passing interest.

And then I saw that he is black. And I could not help but be cynical. New Hampshire is blessed by having pretty low violent crime rates. But those violent crime rates are not nonexistent. Yet the first person sentenced to death in the Granite State in more than fifty years (and those individuals did not die at the hands of the state because of the Supreme Court's decision more than a decade later that the death penalty was unconscionable) is black, in a state with an infinitesimal black population? Color me cynical.

Now there is the X factor. (And this might get me into trouble.) You see, Michael Addison killed a Manchester cop, and as we all know, killing a cop is a capital offense. But why? Why is a cop's life worth more than mine or my wife's or any of my friends or members of my family or the vast majority of the American population? I know the theoretical argument: Cops put their lives on the line every time they put on the uniform. But this is sort of bullshit. No, let me rephrase that: It's actually complete bullshit. I'd be very curious to know whether more cops died last year at the hands of assailants than did, say, construction workers doing their jobs. And I'd be especially curious to know how many cops killed people "in the line of duty" who maybe did not deserve to die, as opposed to how many, again, let's say construction workers, killed people.

And maybe my bias comes from being a native of a small town in New Hampshire where cops most decidedly did not put their lives on the line, but did take their power to its very puffed-up limits whenever dealing with, well, anyone. I guess at the end of the day, I'm pretty sceptical of the heroism rhetoric. You know what I'm talking about. It's the whole post 9/11 dialogue that has done a pretty good job of chilling dissent. Cops and firemen and soldiers have become heroes not by virtue of what they actually do as cops and firemen and soldiers, but simply by virtue of being cops and firemen and soldiers. In another political climate, this standard would be simply silly, and in reality it is inane and ought to be called as much. People become cops and firemen and join the military for a whole host of reasons. And in the line of duty they act in a host of ways, some, but relatively few, heroically.

In any case, New Hampshire, one of the whitest states in the country, is about to execute the first person the state has put to death since 1939. And that person is a black male. Forgive me for being cynical. But I am calling bullshit on my home state.

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