Not in my name, not on my ground
I want nothing but the ending of the war
No more killing, or it's over
And the mystery won't matter anymore
-K. Kristofferson, "In The News"
I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night. I just lay there and stared at the clock, watching it count down to a new day, the first day of spring. And watching it count down to the appointed hour at which the government of my adopted state, presuming to speak for me, would, with legal and social sanction, murder one of its citizens.
I thought about turning on the radio to listen for news of a last-minute stay of execution, but I didn't, because I knew there wouldn't be one. And there wasn't. Texas killed a man last night, Charles Anthony Nealy. He was the 9th person executed by the state this year.
If you want to read the particulars of the case, they are all over the web. Dallas and Houston's morning papers both ran the AP story this morning. In bare bones terms, Nealy was convicted of shooting a storeowner during a robbery in 1997 and sentenced to death. Nealy has never admitted taking part in the robbery or killing the victim. He was supposed to be executed last November, but got a stay due to a witness in his trial contending that his testimony had been wrong. The Texas Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and the murder was rescheduled for last night.
As a Texan, or really as an American of any variety, one gets a bit used to one's government carrying out atrocities in the name of the citizenry. No matter how many times it happens, though, I just can't get used to this. It is surreal to the point of seeming impossible that I really live in a place where the government regularly and publicly murders my fellow citizens and nobody cares. I can think of all manner of different arguments against it when I am thinking logically, trying to argue with someone about why the death penalty is such a very bad idea. I can cite the racism, the classism, the possibility of a mistake leading to the execution of an innocent person, the expense of the system. When I'm lying in bed at night, though, it all comes down to being completely floored that anyone can think that the intentional taking of a human life by the state is acceptable. Killing is wrong, and it is even more wrong for a government than for a person. It is a subversion of everything governments are supposed to do for their citizens. It does not keep us safe, it provides us with no collective service and contributes nothing to the collective good. It gives no hand up to the less fortunate among us. It does nothing but exact vengeance upon the weak (a single individual, in this case) by the strong (the state apparatus). And every time it happens, we are all the worse for it.
I'd like to find some silver lining to this dark cloud, but there really isn't one. A few weeks ago, I heard Sister Helen Prejean on the radio, and she seemed so positive, citing statistics that showed the number of executions, even in the South, was going down, and that people's tolerance for government sanctioned murder was waning. I can't find her optimism today, though. In less than three months, my state has executed nine people. Last night, in the first hours of spring, they--no, we--executed a black man who may or may not have met the legal definition of mental retardation days before his 43rd birthday. The dark, bleak winter stretches out before us, and there is no spring in sight.