Saturday, February 25, 2012

'Review' of death penalty doesn't diminish public demand for blood sacrifice

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins this week revealed that his great grandfather was executed by the state of Texas. According to AP, his reference was to:
the execution of his great-grandfather, Richard Johnson. According to state criminal records and news accounts, Johnson escaped from prison three times while serving a 35-year sentence for burglary, and he was charged with killing a man after his third escape. He was convicted of murder in October 1931 and executed in the electric chair in August 1932.

Watkins said he did not get a full explanation of what happened until he became district attorney. His grandmother, who was a young girl when her father was executed, still struggles with the story, according to Watkins and his mother, Paula.
Whether because of this reveation or coincidental to it, Watkins announced he's reconsidering his position on capital punishment, somewhat opaquely calling for a review of the death penalty in Texas. Grits must admit, I never know what that means whenever it's said. How much more "review" can there be? It's virtually the only criminal justice-issue besides police shootings that the MSM consistently covers.

I don't care how much you "review" the death penalty, the Texas public overwhelmingly supports it, even if it turns out the state has executed an innocent person. My boss Jeff Blackburn has called the death penalty Texas' "state religion," and in many ways I think that captures it: For the public, it's important for the same reasons the Aztecs valued ritual blood sacrifice. Blood sacrifice among the Aztecs didn't really make the seasons change or impact cosmology, just as our modern, more sanitized version does little to reduce murders or crime. (Ironically, though murder rates have gone down everywhere, they've declined less rapidly in states like Texas that use the death penalty most frequently.) But you could never convince Aztec priests nor politicians supporting the death-penalty of that intellectual disconnect because it's important to the public at an almost psychic and/or symbolic level: "The world is a terrible place so we must do a terrible thing to make it right."

To me, whether the death penalty is right or wrong is not a rational question with a "correct" yes or no answer. One's opinion on it usually tells you more about the person than it does the issue - it's in many ways a moral, ethical and political Rorschach test - and the best answer, as is frustratingly often the case, is "it depends" ... as always, pending review.


ckikerintulia said...

The prophet Ezekiel quotes the Lord saying to God's people, "I will remove their hearts of stone, and give them hearts of flesh." That may not be an exact quote, but its close. And I cannot from memory give chapter and verse, but probably two or three or more of Grits readers know how to use a concordanve.

Statistics will not change attitudes about the death penalty. Only an Ezekielian heart transplant will accomplish that.

The Rev

Hook Em Horns said...

Grits, I am telling you, Texas has a serious and unnatural fascination with both prisons and the death penalty. They are as "Texas" as the Rio Grand and Willie Nelson.

Coupled with the attitude that "we must be doing something right because everyone hates us" makes this state dangerous as hell when it comes to criminal justice.

sunray's wench said...

Sooooo That would make Criag Watkins officially an inmate family member then. One who works, pays taxes, even holds official office.

Not quite the scum of the earth that most Anons would have us believe.

Perhaps Texas Inmate Family Association should make him an honourary member. I'm being serious.

DEWEY said...

But GRITS, we MUST give blood sacrifice to the crime gods so we can be "safe" (insert sarcasm here.)

The Homeless Cowboy said...

I like the way you think Ms. Sunray, and you have to admit that DEWEY pretty much nailed it on our state attitude. As far as the State Religion, I thought it was Baptist, but I have been wrong before.

Don said...

Well, Homeless, Baptists and Death Penalty Zealots are not exactly mutually exclusive, are they? SW, I think that's a grand idea, to make Watkins a member. Charles, you wouldn't believe that I almost "concordanve" before I figured out that it was a typo, really concordance. I may be ugly, but you gotta admit I am stupid. :)

Don said...

See. I mean to say "almost looked up "concoranve". Makes my point.

dahowa said...

Some people do things so horrible that execution is a logical response. But the criminal justice system will never be perfect and perfection is necessary to make such a decision. In other words, don't play God unless you are God.

Phillip Baker said...

My opposition to the death penalty remains strong, based on my religious beliefs- it is wrong and irreparably flawed in its implementation. But more to the point, it demeans us all. Those who claim the men on death row deserve it are almost always right. They do. But surely we, as civilized people of faith, deserve better for ourselves. We as a people should not be condoning state sanctioned judicial killings. We should be better than that.

As a preemptive here, I note that I have been a "victim" of murders twice. So don't even start that "But if it was YOUR friend, son, wife,etc killed....". It was my family killed, and I still oppose the death penalty. I expect that of myself as a civilize man of faith.

ckikerintulia said...

Thank you Philip. Don, I don't know what a concordanve is either.

Anonymous said...

I don't see you wasting any ink on those who are murdered by your blood thirsty pets.

Here's the three part plan: ignore the victims of violent crime, wring your hands for the murderers, attack the police, the courts, etc.

Charlie O) said...

The good "christians" of Texas just gotta get their revenge.

benbshaw said...

There are several big reasons to be against the death penalty.
1. It is final, there is no way to remedy mistakes.
2. There are mistakes made as wee know from the many people exonerated by DNA evidence after the trial.
3. As we have a money-based justice system, poor people who can't afford a lawyer will get the death penalty, while rich offenders get more lenient treatment.
4. Legal representative is an after thought in Texas. We have no public defender system.
5. The office of District Attorney is used as a stepping stone to higher office, which leads DA to follow "tough on crime" approach than uphold the rule of law which they take an oath to uphold.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:49, I'm not "wasting any ink" at all, as it turns out. Welcome to the Internet. The whole digital thingy is really cool - you're gonna like it, I bet.

As to your underlying point, this blog is one part of a larger conversation, aiming to fill a gap in criminal justice coverage and opinion. Your comments here are virtually the same every time you visit, and and I sometimes don't think you understand what you're reading: These are opinion pieces. Nobody claimed my opinions are the only valid ones, they're just the ones published here. If you don't like them, don't visit.

Stephanie said...

It's interesting that Mr. Watkins did not get a "full explanation" until he became the district attorney. One reason victim survivors (which he was not but the need is much the same) become so enmeshed in the criminal justice system is because they believe that the "truth" will be revealed. I'm not belittling the system but the "truth" is one of the last things it's set up to provide. Another reason to provide options and services that actually get at what victim survivors want - information, respect, accountability, truth, and safety. I believe that blood sacrifice would become less meaningful to victim survivors themselves if their needs were being met in other, more meaningful, ways.

Hook Em Horns said...

"I'm not belittling the system but the "truth" is one of the last things it's set up to provide."

Stephanie, you are exactly right! The system is not about the truth, it's about who screams the loudest which is why I am hoarse today :-(

Theodori said...

I grew up in Conroe, so when I was a kid, I remember the Clarence Bradley case. I am extraordinarily grateful that DNA advances were available AND USED and he was exonerated. Conroe wasn't exactly the pit of multiculturalism in the 80's. (and that is about as nice and politically correct as I can say it!) Sadly, I have to admit that my parents moved us there in the late 70's to avoid busing that was being instituted in HISD. White, religious, redneck.... Breeding grounds for hate groups of anyone not like us. Mr. Bradley was a pawn in a very bad corrupt situation.

Larry Hayes was a neighbor of my childhood home where he murdered his wife and I can say that he was a "jerk" (again, being nice here). I didn't know him well enough or follow enough of the case to provide much commentary. But I think he deserved what he got, and there was no question of his guilt.

Micheal Perry murdered a former childhood neighbor (same neighborhood but they had moved before they were murdered). The first time I really got into reading about a death row inmate, from their perspective, was with Micheal Perry. I know the daughter/sister of his victims and I was interested to learn what "his side" was. After reading his blog, I was only angry because I knew what he was saying was not true and people (especially the Europeans) were just eating it up. From what I knew of the case, Mr. Perry was another manipulative Sociopath like Mr. Hayes. His was the first DP case that I followed closely for the last year or so until his execution. Michael Perry was white and his victims where white. No one can claim racism of Montgomery County like Clarence Bradley.. Why he got the DP and his partner didn't. I can't answer that, except different juries. There is no rhyme or reason. I don't think the criminal justice system is fair in these matters. Same/Similar crimes deserve same/similar punishment. Why someone gets 30 years for possession of marijuana and someone else gets 10 years for vehicular manslaughter during their 8th DWI is beyond my comprehension (And I have a Masters degree!).

Theodori said...

Money doesn't ALWAYS save you. Bart Whitaker sits on death row. Young rich, white boy....thinks he is so smart and smug. He admits to what he did, everyone involved admits to what he did, everyone he tried to get to do it in the past admit to it.....

His victims are paying for his defense and asking for his punishment to be overturned. There is no question of his guilt and so far, money has not prevented nor reversed his DP sentence. I guess we can just watch and wait. I used to feel oddly sorry for him and curious to understand him until I went and read his blog. Now, I only feel sorrow and pain for his father. Bart is another Sociopath.

We spend too little on the education system and too much on the criminal justice system. Maybe if we had better teachers and better school counselors someone like Bart Whitaker would get the mental help he needed early and it would have avoided where we are today. But his parents were rich and doted on his every wish and desire, so I don't think that would have helped in his case. He was denied nothing as a child and no one recognized his problems. He went to what is probably the best school in Fort Bend County (Clements). My opinion is that Bart got whatever he wanted from very naive parents who would believe nothing bad about their own children. They were warned a few years earlier that he was trying to have them killed and actually went to him asked him about it and he told them "NO, this is just a misunderstanding..I love you" and they believed him, and got him no mental help... he was/is manipulative...Why do Religious, Zealot Political supporters scream loudly at the idea of a review of the DP, yet want a place in my uterus with me, my husband and my doctor and tell me that abortion is murder and I can't do it because that fetus has a right to a life? They now make me have to listen to a description of my fetus from ultrasound 24 hours in advance of an abortion because someone describing it will somehow make me change my mind.

Theodori said...

Religious right-wing say they want government out of their lives, yet want the government to tell homosexuals they can't marry.

Make up your mind.. do you want the government making decisions for you or not?? Pick a side, don't flip-flop... You want them to make social/moral laws, or you don't...

I don't know the answers. I'm rambling now, so I'll go. But, I'm all for scraping the whole system and starting from scratch. My my liberal public policy undergraduate education fights constantly with my conservative business graduate education, so I can see both sides of the war... I wish what I saw was an answer.

I would like to live in a society that quit making laws that tried to protect me from myself. I don't think drug use, or prostitution should be illegal. I'm only hurting myself (if that). If I get stoned and go drive.. now it is illegal because I endanger others.

Make all "protect yourself" crimes legal and tax the heck out of them. That is how we get rid of cartels, if they are shipping in something we can legally buy here, their business dies.. and maybe with the taxes we can improve our education system or our mental healthcare for the poor... a lot of people wouldn't be in jail in those two systems were better.

It's a lot cheaper to keep people out of crime than it is to punish them after the fact... when will people see that? I don't suspect that it will be anytime soon.

Sheldon tyc#47333 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheldon tyc#47333 said...

An interesting piece of gossip Grits regarding Mr. Watkins. Even more interesting is how you compared today’s blood lust attitude in Texas to the human sacrifices made by Aztec leaders in their ritual worship of idols. I think your boss is on to something with the death penalty being the states religion. I would also add that its only part of the whole tough on crime ideology with its inhumane treatment of our states incarcerated.
Deut 16:20 Justice Justice shall you pursue.
If the way a society treats it prisoners is a reflection of that society and Texas proclaims itself a Christian state, whose population strives to elect Christian leaders. Then it could be said Texas is a good example of the egocentric psyche Christianity has historically been since its conception at the counsel of Nicea in 325CE. Moving away from its first century message of spiritual salvation to something that resembles an occult composed of biblically ignorant follows whose leaders simply wish to satisfy their lust for power and wealth. The actions of Texas Christians and their elected officials who profess Christian values could be a basis to argue the gospel of Jesus Christ is nothing more than a crap filled fairy tale.
I believe it’s important for Texans to elect and appoint true God fearing leaders who will implement a true criminal justice system. As voters we need to demand not just right on crime but righteous on crime.

Anonymous said...

Watkins can't pay his mortgage, bar dues, advertising companies and past due bonds he owes to Denton county. He is in no position to give his opinion on any subject matter relating to any other person when he can't even handle his own personal matters.