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October 22, 2010

"Why the death penalty still exists in the US: Author ties the practice to slavery, racism"

9780674057234-lg The title of this post is the headline of this book review appearing in today's Boston Globe. The review is of this new book by Professor David Garland, titled "Peculiar Institution America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition."  Here is how the review gets started:

Why does the United States, alone among Western democracies, still have the death penalty? It’s not a new question, but David Garland, a distinguished professor of law and sociology at New York University, provides fresh answers from a multilayered analysis.

In a review of several centuries of the death penalty, Garland shows it has passed through the same phases in the United States and Europe. Executions have evolved from gruesome, public displays of governmental power and impassioned expressions of revenge to more humane methods implemented in an orderly fashion behind prison walls.

Garland finds the death penalty’s evolution has been shaped by the emergence of thought that values individuals, including the convicted; a bourgeois refinement that recoils at bloody scenes; and a penal system that has made executions as a matter of punishment, not sovereign will.

What then accounts for the persistence of the death penalty laws on the books of 35 states and the federal government?

The title hints at the most provocative part of Garland’s answer. In American history, the “peculiar institution" is slavery. Anyone who thinks its vestiges were wiped out by the Emancipation Proclamation or civil rights laws should read this book and think again.

October 22, 2010 at 09:52 AM | Permalink

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Comments

What an idiot. It's just a flat-out lie to characterize the DP as a "peculiar institution." Far more than half the world has it, including the four largest nations (China, India, the USA and Indonesia). Disparte nations and cultures such as Japan, South Korea, Jamaica and Nigeria also have it. Lest it be thought to be anti-black, the author might have cared to look into the fact that MOST OF AFRICA HAS IT. (Check it out on the list provided by Amnesty International, available here: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0777460.html). Of course if the author wants to characterize Africa as "backward" or the "white man's burden" or some such thing, I'm all ears. We've heard that one before.

In this country, the death penalty made its big comeback at exactly the time (the last quarter of the 20th Century) Jim Crow was taking its last gasps and was finally put out of its misery. Nor do any of the most prominent death penalty cases in this country suggest a racist tinge, see, e.g., Timmy McVeigh, Ted Bundy, Caryl Chessman, John Wayne Gacy, John Couey -- not to mention the two heroes facing the death penalty in not-so-Confederate Connecticut for their arson/child rape/triple murder.

When the DP is still routinely practiced by Muslim, Oriental, Sub-Continent and African countries, the author has one hell of an arrogant white man's nerve to brand it as a primitive "peculiar institution."

My goodness, if he were on NPR, he'd get fired.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 22, 2010 10:42:36 AM

I do not understand the connection between the death penalty and slavery. Black victims are being deprived of its benefits, and suffer a six fold higher burden of being murdered. The death penalty should be increased for the murderers of black murder victims. Please, explain this connection. If it exists to intimidate black people, shouldn't it be shown they get it too much, when in reality, they get it too little?

Blacks have too little police protection, too little respect in the prosecutor's office, and too little punishment for their victimizers.

Japan has a proper death penalty, without a set date, and has very little crime victimization. To be honest, if you act up, they just beat you every day. Self help criminal law enforcement seems to be the active ingredient in jurisdictions with low crime rates.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 22, 2010 11:11:17 AM

Not disputing that India and China have the death penalty, but doesn't it say, right there, "Why does the United States, alone among Western democracies, still have the death penalty?"

Posted by: SRS | Oct 22, 2010 1:22:15 PM

SRS --

Sure, if you define the class you're interested in to exclude African, Oriental, Sub-Continent and Muslim countries, you can isolate the United States. But the whole point is: What is the justification for excluding those countries? Are they less civilized? Do their peoples not feel the same longing for justice as the whites in Western democracies?

To answer the question directly: Why does the USA alone among those democracies have the DP? -- I will simply refer you to the case currently ongoing in Connecticut, in which two thugs, who learned nothing from their numerous previous stints in the slammer, now want yet another one as society's response to a triple murder whose merciless sadism and cruelty defy belief. The idea that yet another stint in jail, no matter what its length, represents a just sentence for that duo is so absurd that it has been rejected by the public 75-18 (as shown in an earlier post Doug put up).

If the abolitionists want to put up the usual clamor that they're more moral and everything than the huge majority of their countrymen, they can have at it. (Unlike NPR, I'm not a fan of censorship). The more indignant their arrogance becomes, the more thoroughly they dig themseves in.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 22, 2010 2:18:59 PM

Bill Otis is just second in the “funniest hangmanfriends” race. Dudley Sharp is the always winner. Both like to be in such a company of third rates countries like Communist China, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Belarus, Sudan, Cuba, Libya, Egypt, The Nam, Saudi Arabia, Sing-Singapore, Nigeria and the usual suspects.

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Oct 22, 2010 2:50:40 PM

@Claudio Giusti
Actually, as a democracy, our status as a death penalty state puts us alongside Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

If not, your country's status as a non death penalty state puts it beside Mexico, Venezuela and Russia.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Oct 22, 2010 3:20:04 PM

In Italy, the death penalty is reserved for brave inquisitorial judges who dare to investigate the Mafia. The Commies running that failed state love the criminal, hate the judge and the moral citizen seeking to be left alone.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 22, 2010 3:33:07 PM

claudio --

Thank you for the tribute, but my friends Kent Scheidegger and Professor Paul Cassell have done more than my lowly efforts to advance the cause of justice. Dudley of course does more than his share as well, speaking truth to media and academic power.

P.S. Any time you care to post something substantive, I assure you Doug has no rule against it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 22, 2010 4:45:06 PM

"Are [African, Oriental, Sub-Continent and Muslim countries] less civilized [than America]?"

It doesn't take much imagination to predict how most conservative death penalty proponents would poll on that question.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Oct 22, 2010 5:48:26 PM

Michael Drake --

How would you answer it?

If your answer is that, no, they are as civilized as America, what is the justification for singling out America as a presumably quite nasty death penalty nation while ignoring the fact that all these other, non-white nations also have it?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 22, 2010 5:56:21 PM

"How would you answer it?"

I wouldn't, because I don't think the question is well-posed. (Are tomatoes more flavorful than other fruits?) Also: I think you might be missing the point.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Oct 22, 2010 10:41:15 PM

"I don't think the question is well-posed."

I meant: I don't think the question necessarily admits of a yes or no answer.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Oct 22, 2010 11:12:15 PM

sorry, I forgot Communist North Korea

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Oct 23, 2010 4:17:30 AM

Does North Korea execute as many criminals as we allow the lawyer protected murderer to do murder victims in the US (17,000 a year)?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 23, 2010 9:54:31 AM

How could anyone suggest that strapping people down and killing them is uncivilized?

Posted by: John K | Oct 23, 2010 10:32:07 AM

By being left-wing zealots who want to snuggle up to the two career criminals in Connecticut for their arson/child rape/torture/triple murder.

By 75-18, your fellow citizens want those guys "strapped down" and given the needle.

Are they uncivilized?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 23, 2010 12:02:17 PM

"By being left-wing zealots who want to snuggle up to the two career criminals in Connecticut for their arson/child rape/torture/triple murder."

Bill Otis is right. We can either kill murderers or snuggle up to them. There's really no other viable policy response.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Oct 23, 2010 1:59:38 PM

Michael Drake --

By directly implying that the death penalty -- which the American people overwhelmingly support -- is "uncivilized" -- John K invited the answer I gave him.

Earlier in this thread, I characterized the current death penalty prosecution in Connecticut thusly: Two thugs, who learned nothing from their numerous previous stints in the slammer, now want yet another one as society's response to a triple murder whose merciless sadism and cruelty defy belief.

Do you dispute that characterization?

I also said: The idea that yet another stint in jail, no matter what its length, represents a just sentence for that duo is so absurd that it has been rejected by the public 75-18 (as shown in an earlier post Doug put up).

Do you dispute that?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 23, 2010 3:00:11 PM

Bill Otis, so the fact that someone believes the death penalty is uncivilized justifies the conclusion that that person must be a left-wing zealot who snuggles up to murderers? Here again, I guess we must just have very different standards of justification.

I don't see how your contentions about a particular capital case in Connecticut bear on the issues raised in the paper, so I see no reason to dispute them here.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Oct 23, 2010 5:46:09 PM

Michael Drake --

The reason you don't dispute them is that you can't.

The issues raised in the paper call on the reader to consider why the United States retains the DP while Europe does not, and suggests that it's our unique legacy of slavery and racism. The shocking (to me, anyway -- not to you, so far as your posts disclose) arson/child rape/triple murder in Connecticut provides ample answer as to why we retain it. The reason that case in particular is relevant is that it has zilch to do with racism and slavery. All the actors are white, and it occured in New England.

Since we have different standards of justification, as you assert, lets test them. Under mine, there is no justification whatever for either of the defendants in that horrible (to me) case.

Are they justified, under your standards?

Is their crime mitigated by concerns about racism, under your standards?

Have they earned the harshest penalty the law allows, under your standards?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 23, 2010 6:06:24 PM

Bill, it might very well be that your contentions about the two white defendants in Connecticut are indisputable. I wouldn't know. I already gave the reason I didn't dispute them: the fact that a particular application of the death penalty might be appropriate says nothing about an argument that is based (in part) on the fact that the death penalty is "uneven[ly] appli[ed]." This, it seems to me, is not a subtle point.

Last word's yours if you want it.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Oct 23, 2010 11:23:31 PM

Mr Otis forgot Joshua Marquis, the new star in the hangmanfriends firmament. I suggest to get a look here
http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/osjcl/Articles/Volume4_1/Fagan.pdf
And here
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=931454

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Oct 24, 2010 5:24:50 AM

Michael Drake --

When, as you say, a "particular application" of the death penalty is appropriate, that's the end of the ballgame. By definition, one goes forward in Case X with what is approrpiate in Case X, there being no alternative that makes a grain of sense.

If, in Case Y, the DP is arguably INappropriate because there is some seemingly plausible claim that the case has been influenced by racism, then you examine THAT claim. If it's true, you re-do the case until the racist influence is verifiably removed. If it's not true, then there's not a shred of reason to turn away from the death penalty IN THAT CASE.

On the theory that group justice is no justice at all, I had always thought that justice was to be administered one case at a time. It is no more just that a guilty party escape earned punishment in his case because of a general social problem ("America is rife with racism, therefore Defendant X gets less than he individually deserves") than it would be for an innocent party to be punished because some DIFFERENT general social problem demands a solution ("Crime in this town is rampant and it's time to make an example with the unappealing Defendant X, guilty or not").

General problems cannot find their solution in individual cases. The best we can do, or should aim to do in an individual case, is individual justice. Sometimes, as in this Connecticut case, that means capital punishment.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 24, 2010 11:04:19 AM

Submitted.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Oct 24, 2010 6:06:03 PM

least insightful comment thread ever

i wonder if the rabid attack mode against this book signals that the author is cutting close to the bone? the more the death penalty is connected to its roots in the brutality of slavery, the less appealing it is to modern mores. of course, the dp is not *only* a vestige of slavery, and it is possible that modern america could make a policy choice to continue the dp independent of previous taints of racism. but it is ridiculous to deny the historical connections; and to focus on McVeigh, Dahmer, etc. as "typical" dp cases is similarly ludicrous. The typical case is a small-time loser no one has ever heard of. More are white than black, but they are more likely to be black than predictable from demographics, and much more likely when victim is white. None of these means abolition is the only answer, but honest people would grapple with these facts, instead of spreading smokescreens and misdirection whenever they are raised.

Posted by: anon | Oct 25, 2010 2:06:30 PM

anon --

"...the more the death penalty is connected to its roots in the brutality of slavery..."

Actually, it came over from England before slavery took hold in this country.

"...the less appealing it is to modern mores."

Actually, it's much more popular now in this country than it was 45 years ago.

"More are white than black, but they are more likely to be black than predictable from demographics, and much more likely when victim is white. None of these means abolition is the only answer, but honest people would grapple with these facts, instead of spreading smokescreens and misdirection whenever they are raised."

The book claims that the DP is a "peculiarly" American institution born in America's treatment of blacks. The claim is palpably false. It is practiced worldwide, in legal systems and cultures that share little or nothing with American chattel slavery. And, as noted, it migrated here from England, which likewise had nothing resembling American slavery.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 25, 2010 8:53:31 PM

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