News From Arizona 8-31-2001
Date:         Fri, 31 Aug 2001 19:18:57 -0500  

Fellow Abolitionists,

I post below the latest article by Richard Rossi on death row, Arizona. Now in his 18th year on the row, and the author of a recently-published book [in French] describing his life during this prolonged period of harsh incarceration, Richie continues to campaign from his cell against the barbarity that is capital punishment.

Brian Crowther
USA DP coordinator AIUK


When we talk about cruel and unusual punishment, most of us agree that executions fit into that category. But to kill the death penalty would be seen as "justifiable homicide" rather than as a crime. And we must all become killers in this respect.

In America, we look at the cruelty of crimes and for the most extreme cases we reserve the death penalty as a deterrent. Such crimes as high treason, serial killing, mass murders and crimes involving extreme torture.

The majority seems to think that the death penalty is an appropriate deterrent. In reality, this is an empty notion. The threat of death never dissuaded mass murderers such as Hitler or Slobodan Milosevic, or thousands of others. We say we only give the death penalty to the "worst of the worst". A big lie. We give it when we can because we can. We have lost sight of the proportionality of one crime as against another in applying the death penalty. The laws are so skewed that just about anyone qualifies for it. But then we allow such characters as international spies guilty of high treason and mass murderers to enter plea bargains to avoid the death penalty. We don't offer these deals to the poor, the retarded or minorities. If you are not famous, you die. These are not the worst of the worst, only the unfortunate minority.

We claim America is the land of opportunity, of equal protection under the law, but who are we kidding? Money talks. Certainly, everyone is guaranteed an attorney, but nowhere does it say it has to be a good attorney.

No one can easily define what cruel and unusual punishment is. It is a conundrum in itself. The mere act of execution certainly is cruel and unusual punishment. Plain and simple. No further discussion needed. Saying that renders the death penalty indefensible. All of the fine lines we try to draw as a humane society concerning the death penalty are ludicrous. You cannot have a humane society and allow the death penalty. Killing is killing by anyone's hands.

It is refreshing to see that many states are moving in the direction of passing laws to outlaw the execution of the mentally retarded prisoners. It is a step in the right direction, but how many people realize that these laws require that the individual be diagnosed to be retarded with an I.Q below 70 prior to their 18th birthday? Why should it matter when you are diagnosed? If you are retarded, you can't alter that. If the person knew he or she was retarded at any age, would it prevent murder? Of course not. We know it is wrong to execute the mentally retarded, but we are afraid that everyone on death row will try to claim they are retarded, so we draw the line at 18. You cannot fake mental retardation. The issue of executing the mentally retarded will be taken up by the U.S Supreme Court in a case out of North Carolina called McCarver v. North Carolina. However, North Carolina has since passed a law against executing the mentally retarded and so there are now calls for the U.S Supreme Court not to hear this case because it is moot.

We hear so much about the evolving standards of decency. Do Americans really care about this and the worldwide opposition to the death penalty? Generally no, but things are beginning to change. Cracks are beginning to form. Liberal Supreme Courts like the one in 1972 that declared the death penalty unconstitutional, and even the more conservative court in 1976 that reinstated the death penalty, were conscious of the evolving standards of decency and other international
models. However, in 1989, Justice Antonin Scalia in Stanford v. Kentucky stated that "evolving standards of decency" matter in capital cases, but that moral sensibility stops at the waters edge - thus showing opposition to outside influence. But voices in the conservative court are starting to change as is evidenced by statements made by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in which she questions the fairness in the application of the death penalty.

Are foreign opinions and opposition to the death penalty having an effect? Definitely yes. Events such as the recent International Congress at Strasbourg with speeches by such notables as Robert Badinter and others, and the resolution on human rights signed by the heads of state are impressive. And the proposal to hold the next conference in America is fantastic. The fact that France, Italy and Canada refuse to extradite criminals to the U.S if the possibility exists of the imposition of the death penalty is laudable. Such actions are having their effect. Before France would agree to extradite Ira Einhorn back to the United States, Philadelphia had to pass a new law guaranteeing that Einhorn would not face execution. This is impressive. It proves that international pressure can be brought to bear on America to change its laws. Opposition must intensify. The demonstrations against Bush in Europe were noticed in America. Although economic boycotts are the best way to exert pressure on America, especially in this period of economic downturn, this is not happening. It seems that when it comes to profits, political ideology takes a back seat. Efforts need to be strengthened in this area.

We must be encouraged by the small gains we are seeing. Alternatively, it is easy to see that conservative minds are slow to change. A recent article in an Oklahoma newspaper condemned a group of abolitionists who were trying to raise money to improve the burials of hose executed in Oklahoma. The viewpoint expressed was that the killers executed at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary are the dregs of society. That these abolitionists are making martyrs out of these killers who are buried at the "Peckerwood Hell" paupers cemetery, and that the state is under no obligation to spend more than a pittance to bury these terrible killers. And why are these abolitionists so obsessed with murderers who didn't deserve to live? How much less do they deserve to be remembered? And why should these vilest of prisoners get a better burial than many victims of crime? That is sickening, many protest. Lastly the article gives a special warning explaining that a moratorium should never be allowed because in essence this would be the first step towards abolition.

Obviously, right wing conservative thinking still runs deep in America concerning the death penalty. We cannot be discouraged, we must work even harder. Things are changing.

By continuing opposition and hammering away at issues such as the mentally retarded, juveniles, poor legal representation and the racial disparities in sentencing people to death, we are turning the corner in the court of public opinion. A groundswell is enveloping presently and the time to act is now. International pressure must be brought to bear on this torturous regime of state-sanctioned executions in America. It is time to bring this beast to its knees and to kill the death penalty.

Richard Michael Rossi 50337
PO Box 3400
Florence, AZ 85232

Death Row - August 2001

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