Friday, February 12, 2010

Fourteen Days in May - A Guest Post by Traci Jones

For those who are not aware, Britain abolished the death-penalty for murder in 1969 (The last person to be put to death, by hanging, in the UK was in 1964). Forty years later, a poll commissioned by a UK TV company revealed that 70% of those polled were in favor of the return of capital punishment to the UK. I am opposed to the death-penalty, as is Traci Jones, an English expat living in Colorado, whom I befriended following comments she made to this blog. I invited her to write a guest post here:

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Fourteen Days In May. A title I came across while watching TV when I was just 16 years old. Twenty three years on, those four words can still transport me to a horrifying realization - the first awakening to the reality of capital punishment.

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? The death penalty is where we as human beings “punish” other human beings for the most atrocious crimes. It goes on all around the world and yet is so easy to ignore. After all, it’s not our world, it’ll never happen to us.

I’m sure it wasn’t even on my radar until that fateful evening in 1987 when I watched the TV cameras enter into this unknown world. They followed a man on Death Row in the US who was nearing his execution date. It was that last two weeks of his life. I can’t even recall all the details but the man who was representing him, and literally fighting for his life, I’ll always remember. He was an English guy, softly spoken, and full of such integrity and determination to do what was right for this man. His name was
Clive Stafford Smith.

The man he represented, Edward Earl Johnson
, was also quietly spoken, intelligent with a shy smile and a calmness that made even his guards uneasy. As the story unfolded and the cameras followed him as he took his last meal, made his last request, joined his amazingly loving, supportive family for the last time (they sang ‘Always’ to him just as he left - what else could they do?), finally Clive and the cameras had to say goodbye. It seemed so unreal that this man, who knew exactly what was about to happen, had so much dignity. And it absolutely tore me apart that humans could do this to another human … and there seemed to be nothing anyone could do about it.

I was not politically motivated at that time, I was just moved to the core by my human response. Since then, I have come to realize the facts about the death penalty. I always come back to the question, “How does this fit into our humanity, how does it make us better people and a better world?”. And statistics show us that the death penalty is no deterrent for the people that commit these crimes (let alone the question of their mental health, and should we be treating mentally-ill people in this way).

Footnote

After he had been put to death,
Clive Stafford Smith announced to the press that evidence had come forward that conclusively proved that Edward Earl Johnson was innocent and had been framed. He could not have been responsible for the crime for which he was killed by the state.

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Clive Stafford Smith now works as the legal director of Reprieve
, a British charity that is opposed to the death penalty.

You can see Fourteen Days in May for yourself at Veoh.com - to watch the whole thing, you have to download their video player (free). Traci and I welcome your comments.

7 comments:

dudleysharp said...

It is clear that Johnson was not an innocent executed. Otherwise, he would be a huge name in the US death penalty debate and his is most certainly not.

It's a common problem.

Innocence

The false innocence claims by anti death penalty activists are legendary. Some examples:


"Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown", A Collection of Articles
http://homicidesurvivors.com/categories/Cameron%20Todd%20Willingham.aspx


"The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/10/08/the-innocent-executed-deception--death-penalty-opponents--draft.aspx


The 130 (now 139) death row "innocents" scam
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/03/04/fact-checking-issues-on-innocence-and-the-death-penalty.aspx


"The Exonerated: Are Any Actually Innocent?"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2006/08/21/the-exonerated-are-any-actually-innocent---new-mexico.aspx


Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/05/04/sister-helen-prejean--the-death-penalty-a-critical-review.aspx


"At the Death House Door" Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/01/30/fact-checking-is-very-welcome.aspx


"The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/05/the-death-penalty-more-protection-for-innocents.aspx


"A Death Penalty Red Herring: The Inanity and Hypocrisy of Perfection", Lester Jackson Ph.D.,
http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=102909A

Asha said...

An eye for an eye, and soon the whole world is blind. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Ian said...

@dudleysharp, the matter of an individual's guilt or innocence is not the important question for me. The death penalty is an act of pure revenge - NOT justice.

I fully understand the family of a murder victim saying, 'Why should a murderer live, when they have taken the life of an innocent individual?' This is an understandably emotional response from the family. However, it is society's duty to leave emotion at the door and to act in a rational and considered manner.

How can any society claim to be taking the moral highground by committing the same act as the murderer? What example is this setting? I am not a religious individual, but surely one of the Ten Commandments is 'Thou shall not kill'? I do not remember reading in the Bible, that the State was somehow exempted from this.

And before anyone says, 'You would change your opinion if you were the victim of an abhorrent crime'; I have to explain, that I am just such a victim.

To me, mercy is one of the most important of all human qualities. Without mercy and forgiveness, this World would be unbearable.

Traci Jones said...

Thanks for your comments - this is always going to be a topic that results in strong opinions and emotions.

@dudleysharp, I'm not as confident as you that just because a case doesn't get a great amount of publicity, that it means a miscarriage of justice didn't take place.

I'm with Ian - although the issue of innocent people being killed by the state is obviously a very serious consideration, it's not the main reason for my stance on the death penalty. That's why it was in the footnote of the blog rather than the main piece.

Has anybody seen the documentary itself?

Graham said...

@Traci - I saw the documentary, and it was incredibly moving. I completely understand how it's had this lasting effect on you. It was quite surreal - even though I knew the eventual outcome, I really felt that it was all going to end up ok, and was shocked when I realized what was going to happen.

@dudleysharp - I see that you help run a blog that appears to be a series of press-releases supporting the death penalty. Like @Ian and @Traci, I think you've missed the point, when you talk about "false innocence." While I think that innocent people have been, and will continued to be executed under this barbaric practice, I think that @Ian and @Asha are correct. An eye for an eye is wrong - pure and simple.

I do believe that Johnson was probably innocent, given the evidence presented in the documentary. I do find it preposterous that @dudleysharp suggests that Johnson was not innocent simply because we haven't heard of him. It probably goes more to show that the innocent being executed is a bigger problem than any of us realize.

But again, innocent or not is not the biggest problem I have with capital punishment.

Graham said...

Just spotted this article by Mike Farrell, and thought it was worth sharing here:

The Death Penalty is Dying

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