Friday, March 20, 2009

Bill Richardson Is My Hero...

...but I am definitely over my crush on him. (That's because of the van dyke, which I think has mercifully been shaved by now). He's my hero because when he came to my small town before the caucuses, he said that he supported civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folk. You don't really hear too much of that where I live, unless you're at church and I'm preaching on the subject. So yeah, I was his big cheerleader in our county...for all the good it did.

And now, he's signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in New Mexico. Thank you, Gov. Richardson! His thoughtful and measured words in the press release accompanying the signing were also outstanding. He acknowledges the difficulty in the decision, how he has struggled and evolved on the issue, and he gives credit to people who believe differently than he does. I admit it - I'm still a sucker for his rhetoric (though I'm perfectly happy to the the POTUS that we do!).

Gov. Richardson raises two issues around the death penalty that have shaped my civil/legal opposition to it: the possibility of executing an innocent person, and the disproportionate way that it is applied to people of color, especially poor people of color. I learned growing up that our legal system believed that it was better to let one hundred guilty people go free than it was to jail one innocent person, and for a long time I was naive enough to believe we meant that. I no longer believe we live by that ideal, but I steadfastly believe it's an American value well-worth returning to.* When an innocent person is executed, you don't get to go back and say, "Ooops, sorry, we got the wrong guy."

Also, when I see the atrocious way that poor people and people of color are treated in our legal system, it makes me want to puke. (Frankly, the way people of color are treated in the media's reporting on legal issues makes me want to puke, too. Just try to remember the last time you saw a white person's mugshot lead the evening news, or be on the front page, above the fold. Bet you saw a black person's mugshot within the last two days, either on TV or in the paper.) DA's often cut deals with white defendants, but bring the full weight of the law down on black ones. Often, a white defendant is said to have made an error in judgment, but a black defendant is just a thug. Ineffective counsel is appointed, and they compound the trouble.

Look at the case of Dominique Green - a microcosm for all that can go wrong. The kid did not pull the trigger, but he still was executed. Oh, and did you know that the white people involved in the shooting - including the one who ACTUALLY COMMITTED THE MURDER - all got off? And that the victim's family asked for him NOT to be executed?! Listen to author Thomas Cahill discuss the case on NPR's "Tell Me More." This may be one case, but it represents a system badly out of whack.

My religious opposition to the death penalty, in addition to the religious aspects of the two above-mentioned reason, is shaped a lot by Augustine (don't laugh, Luis or Jocelyn!), who believed that execution robbed the person of the possibility of repenting of their crime and coming to experience God's forgiveness (and perhaps the forgiveness of the victim and/or victim's family).

Also, Ta-Nehisi has a great post relating to the death penalty, conservatives and small government, which I urge you to mull over. I think it will be the subject of my next post.

* Sorry to end the sentence with a preposition, grammar police.

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