Last week the Nebraska legislature abolished the state’s death penalty, overcoming the governor’s veto to do it. First Things editor Matthew Schmitz, writing in National Review, adds a salutary note of caution to the celebration that followed: viewing abolition as moral progress allows us to “overlook the countless cruelties of our criminal-justice system as we congratulate ourselves on the elimination of a relatively rare punishment.”
Every method of killing can become a form of torture for the person being executed—and a means of moral injury to the executioner.
When I posted about evangelicals and the death penalty the other day, I didn't note Samuel Rodriguez's piece at Time. Not because he's a controversial figure, but because the piece doesn't go very far: while evangelicals should be outraged by "the details" of how Clayton Lockett died, it's clear Stephanie Neiman's killer "needed to be permanently removed from" society (an artfully ambiguous phrase). They should be outraged by these details "regardless of how you feel about the death penalty." And how does Rodriguez himself feel about it? He's studiously noncommittal, that's how. I'm noting it now because yesterday, Morgan Lee posted an article in which Rodriguez elaborates on his own piece.
Late last week, President Obama ordered a review of the specifics as to how the death penalty is administered at the state level. This came in response to the sad episode in which Clayton Lockett, convicted for the horrific murder of Stephanie Neiman, died of an apparent heart attack shortly after a botched lethal injection. The administration’s step is a good one, but it’s hardly bold or brave.
Be sure to read Amelia Thomson-Deveaux's article on the emerging evangelical-Catholic alliance over contraception. I think her historical analogy is entirely fair: evangelicals haven't always been opposed to contraception, but then they weren't always galvanized against abortion, either. And I appreciate that she doesn't simply endorse one of the two standard narratives on how evangelicals came to hate abortion—that either they came around to this opposition organically as they learned about the facts OR they were cynically manipulated by political operatives. There's truth in each of those stories; they aren't mutually exclusive.
A funeral director in Massachusetts is struggling to find a community willing to let Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev be buried there. It's sobering to belong to an ostensibly advanced, decent culture in which people find it reasonable to take revenge on a corpse. And what is this about if not revenge?
Last year, Connecticut repealed the death penalty and California declined to. Americans are conflicted about capital punishment.
Here's some good news: despite our short collective attention span, despite the fiscal-cliff debacle dominating the headlines shortly after the Newtown shooting, the U.S. scourge of gun violence is still part of the national conversation. Now, every time I hear a public official mention Newtown and Aurora but not Chicago—which experienced a startling spike in gun homicides in 2012, mostly in poor, black neighborhoods—I'm ashamed at the implication that some killings deserve more shock and outrage than others. Still, whatever it takes to motivate people to take on the pro-gun lobby, I'm grateful to see it happening.