Killing people is filled with moral incongruity.
Few people achieve what perhaps is the moral cloud nine of absolute and total rejection of killing other human beings. Faced with a direct threat to our own lives or, maybe even more so, the lives of our loved ones, killing a merciless assailant for most folks evolves into the moral imperative.
When a driver plows a beer truck into shopping center in Stockholm, killing several people and injuring scores more, who would assert it's improper to take every measure, including deadly force, to bring that driver to justice and eliminate the possibility that he could do more harm?
And when a despot spreads a toxic gas among the people of his country, killing men, women and children indiscriminately, what is the moral response for nations that claim to stand on the right side of humanity? The heartbreaking scenes of dead infants delivered the horrors of such brutality into our consciousness. Is it wrong to then turn around and strike an airbase in that country, knowing it will result in deaths?
Is a death a death, no matter what, and wrong in all instances? Or is there such a thing as justified killing?
Killing has been a part of the human experience forever. It's been part of U.S. history since the beginning. And not just speaking about war. The U.S. Constitution says no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, a statement that presumes one's actions can lead to forfeiture of life itself.
Our laws against murder are based on the very idea that life is precious, that society cannot permit one person to extinguish the life of another. It happens anyway, and we're left to hand out a punishment in the name of protecting society and, yes, in some ways to dish out retribution.
That brings us to the state killing spree scheduled to begin in a week. Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled executions for eight men on Arkansas death row to occur between April 17 and 27. A state panel recommended clemency for one, so the potential body count is down to seven.
Arkansas' rapid schedule has a certain rawness to it. Even among those who voice support for the death penalty can find it unnerving to think about the step-by-step, deliberate governmental process in which a person walks into a room to have his life extinguished, and for that process to happen seven times in less than two weeks.
Those who oppose the death penalty see it as nothing less than barbaric, but their viewpoint wouldn't be any different if it was one inmate or 50.
The short turnaround time on the executions has amplified criticism that paints Arkansas as a merciless and savage place, full of people licking their chops to finally get someone strapped to the gurney so those deadly intravenous drugs can first sedate the inmates, then paralyze them before finally causing their hearts to stop.
I don't know any Arkansans like that.
The fact is, Arkansas has been forced into these 11 days of death by the successes of those who oppose the death penalty in all its forms. They have succeeded at almost every turn to add new constraints on the state's ability to carry out legally imposed sentences, so much so Arkansas hasn't put someone to death in 12 years. The seven men have been on death row between 16 and 26 years since their convictions.
Opposition efforts have also dried up the supply of drugs used for lethal injections. Arkansas has obtained them, but the drugs cannot be used past an approaching expiration date.
If Arkansas is to carry out the verdicts of its judicial system and apply a punishment supported by its people, this brief window is when it has to happen, thanks to the work of opponents. They've celebrated their successes and may yet succeed in stopping these executions. But no one should believe this 11-day period is Arkansas' desire.
Nobody suggests freeing these men. Their attorneys have made the pitch for converting their sentences to life in prison. The killers' victims were 18, 22, 25, 26, 34, 57 and 62 years old. The inmates range in age from 38 to 60. Bruce Earl Ward has lived 42 years longer than his victim, Rebecca Doss, 18. The inmates have lived, on average, 15 years longer than their victims. One might argue they've had more than a lifetime in prison, at least based on the measure of life they permitted their victims to have.
The job of Asa Hutchinson is to enforce the laws of the state of Arkansas and, so far, the state's populace has determined that those laws should include imposition of the death penalty. Within official state government policy, there is no gnashing of teeth over carrying out a judge's and jury's instructions.
It's a fair debate whether Arkansas ought to have the death penalty. So far, Arkansans have stood by it as an acceptable and rare punishment. If Arkansas had been permitted to carry out these sentences in normal fashion, we're talking about less than one a year over the last several years.
I do not long for executions to be carried out. With past executions so long ago, I remember the somber weight of knowing my government was taking someone's life on a schedule. I cannot imagine how much more Gov. Hutchinson will feel it. I pray for him, the victims' families and everyone involved, including the men on Death Row.
Nothing, however, will make me feel these men are victims because their execution dates approach. I'll reserve those emotions for Doss, Jane Daniels, Debra Reese, Carol Heath, Stacy Rae Errickson, Mary Phillips and Cecil Boren, whose death sentences were carried out a long, long time ago.
Commentary on 04/10/2017
Print Headline: Death approaches