One of the most fascinating aspects of humankind is our idea of crime and punishment. No one is without an opinion on this. The idea of right and wrong, of America being a nation of laws, is such a knotted ball of string, there isn’t a single part of it that isn’t hotly debated. How can it not be? When sentencing from state to state is often so different, punishment can seem almost arbitrary.
Nothing built by humans won’t be vandalized by humans. The only reason Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered intact is because the grave-robbing bastards couldn’t find it. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been anything left.
As long as there are people living, there will be what we call crime. As long as there is crime, there will be justice. The very idea of what is “just,” what is the appropriate punishment — it’s a mind-blowing concept. Over the centuries, the courtroom has become theater, brought to a spectator-sport climax by the O.J. Simpson trial.
The ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime is the death penalty. The rational, sanctioned killing of another human being is such a strong measure, even the legal system is afraid of it. It takes years to actually bring the condemned to whatever means is being employed to dispatch them, and even then, lawyers are working until the end trying to stop it.
No matter where you come down on the idea of killing someone for killing someone, it is an incredibly messy ordeal. Lethal injection, which never should have gotten further than the name of a heavy metal band, requires that the condemned be strapped down and dosed with three drugs, in an almost Rube Goldberg–from-hell way of making the homicide ethical and morally airtight. They even swab the condemned’s arm with alcohol to prevent infection when applying the needle. It would be funny if it wasn’t so fucked up.
Arkansas’ recent rush to hurtle eight men into the great beyond in 11 days didn’t come about because Lady Justice had a full bladder and had to go right now. Apparently, the use-by date on the state’s supply of midazolam, one of the three drugs to be injected, will be up at the end of the month. After this, the state will no longer be able to use midazolam for execution as the manufacturers now prohibit it.
It’s like trying to have one last go before the Viagra wears off. I guess you can’t go to another state and knock on the door to borrow a cup of midazolam, so now it’s a full-court press to kill off these men. Gov. Asa Hutchinson can always blame the Food and Drug Administration.
When you think about it, USA is deeply invested in death. Months ago, comrade Trump claimed that the American military was depleted. He made it sound like there was just one bummed-out soldier with a straw and some wadded-up paper, tasked with winning the war on terror. It’s going to take a lot of money to get supplies and capability up to the comrade’s yuge standards. Your life and relative well-being don’t seem to be nearly as much a priority.
When we’re not killing abroad, we’re keeping county morgues full and stuffing prisons from coast to coast. Too bad it’s not an overstock of mattresses that have to go at cut-rate prices, but in many ways, it is. Prisoners are human inventory and every day of life or death for anyone in America’s prison system is expensive for the taxpayer and a profit-loaded payday for those in the punishment business.
It’s time for the prison-industrial complex to admit that there is really no ethical way to end a human life and, that being the case, either stop all executions or put the condemned in front of a firing squad and get it over with. It would be ghastly, but you’re killing someone — there is no nice way to go about it.
I am willing to bet that those charged with the job of extinguishing these lives take no joy in a malfunction and want nothing less than a fail-proof method and consistent results. It’s not as if they haven’t tried. There is a film that addresses one method of termination and the issues that come with it, Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman. It’s based on the life of Albert Pierrepoint, an Englishman who hanged at least 400 people, stopping in 1956.
It was interesting to see the angry posts underneath articles about why Arkansas set the schedule to the expiration of its midazolam supply. I understand why people would be sickened by both the methodical killing of someone, no matter what their deed, and the state’s “get while the getting’s good” approach, but that’s the system. It’s profit-incentivized and there is a bottom line. American Justice is a business.
Every once in a while, there is a moment, like what’s been happening in Arkansas, when the entire country is afforded an opportunity to take stock and consider if this is really the way they want to go.
We are very good at killing and the world knows it. I wonder if the reason why so many countries spend so much on weapons is because they’re afraid of USA. How ironic that we often supply the demand that we potentially created.
In a lot of countries, for better or worse, life is cheap. In America, you get a twofer. Life is expensive and so is death.
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You can’t be surprised that Arkansas, the state that gave you the Little Rock Nine and the West Memphis Three, would be trying to save a few bucks.
More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
White America Couldn't Handle What Black America Deals With Every Day
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No Matter Who Wins, America Is Only Going to Get Angrier