On Troy Davis And The Death Penalty

Many who live deserve death, and some that die deserve life – can you give it to them? Do not be so quick to deal out death and judgement.

Gandalf – Lord of the Rings

 

Troy Davis is dead. The fact the death penalty is itself alive and well after this and many, many other dreadful injustices, is not a hopeful sign for the abolitionists. For Troy Davis isn’t close to being the first, nor will he be the last innocent person to die by state mandate.

The whole Death Row system puts me in mind of the Roman emperors, deciding the fate of prisoners with a signal: thumbs up or thumbs down. At least the Romans were honest in using executions as entertainment, whereas America, supposedly a civilised Western nation, tries to cloak the savage nature of executions with the trappings of a long and drawn out judicial system, in which ultimately a mere handful of people decide the fate of a convicted criminal, while still allowing the public to witness them.

You need only look at the attitudes of the governors who condemn people to death to see how utterly morally unfit we are to decide whether our fellows should live or die. Who can forget George W Bush’s mocking of the terrified Karla Faye Tucker’s pleas for clemency? And now we have Rick Perry, who has overseen more executions as Texas governor than any American governor in history, and takes perverse pride in this while claiming he loses no sleep that an innocent person may have been killed (the case of Cameron Todd Willingham proves that this is a certainty). What is frighteningly clear is that neither treats the act of ending a person’s existence seriously.

How is it that those with power to condemn can do so with such callousness and lack of awareness of the gravity of the act? I don’t suggest they think that killing a person isn’t a serious step to take, but that they do not appreciate the full awfulness of what killing involves: destroying a person forever. Why is America alone of all Western countries, such a proud and eager enforcer of this terrible and barbaric punishment? Christopher Hitchens pretty much nails it here, I think:

Nobody had been bothering to argue that the rope or the firing squad, or the gas chamber, or “Old Sparky” the bristle-making chair, or the deadly catheter were a deterrent. The point of the penalty was that it was death. It expressed righteous revulsion and symbolized rectitude and retribution. Voila tout! The reason why the United States is alone among comparable countries in its commitment to doing this is that it is the most religious of those countries. (Take away only China, which is run by a very nervous oligarchy, and the remaining death-penalty states in the world will generally be noticeable as theocratic ones.)

And this is the crux of the matter. The overwhelming majority of death penalty supporters in America are Christians. It’s tempting to claim that as usual, these Christians aren’t following their own faith, but in fact they are. The Bible declares the wages of sin to be death, and the fact we all have to die someday is deemed punishment for our inherent sinfulness. So it is entirely natural for an intensely religious country to see death as an appropriate punishment for particularly evil crimes. And it also explains the lack of comprehension as to exactly what executing a person is doing. When you firmly believe that there is an afterlife, you cannot grasp the fact that by killing a person, you may have destroyed them for all time, and you cannot grasp the incredible awfulness of that fact. Add to that the fact that we just don’t know what happens when we die. There may be indeed a heaven and hell, but it is just as likely that death is literally the end for us. It’s all very well for religious people to claim that the guilty executed will go to hell, and the innocents executed will be well compensated for their suffering in Heaven (providing they accept Jesus as their saviour of course!), while being just as ignorant as the rest of us as to what comes next. It is precisely because we don’t know that no human being should have the power of life and death over another.

There’s a strange kind of moral blindness in those who support capital punishment. They claim that murder is such a heinous crime that only death is a punishment sufficiently severe enough for it, while completely failing to see the inherent paradox of the deliberate taking of a human life necessitating the deliberate taking of another human life to balance the books, as it were. It is supposed to deter people from murdering, yet no statistics have ever backed that claim up. On the contrary, instead of acting as a force for good, as its supporters insist, the death penalty is a great force for evil in that it is the result of our very worst instincts, and brings out the very worst side of us. The cries of ‘Fry him!’, the savage braying for blood, the demand for vengeance, and worst of all, the sickening gloating satisfaction after the execution betrays what America’s ultra-civilised system tries to conceal: that capital punishment is primitive, barbaric, and completely uncivilised.

For those of us who naturally oppose the death penalty, there are still traps and temptations that we risk falling into. The most obvious is to make exceptions: clearly, innocent people shouldn’t die, but when we read about a child rapist and killer, it becomes very tempting to say, “Well, this person deserves it, because what he did was so terrible.” In fact, the very same day Troy Davis was executed, this man was too:

White supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed Wednesday evening for the infamous dragging death slaying of James Byrd Jr., a black man from East Texas.

Byrd, 49, was chained to the back of a pickup truck and pulled whip-like to his death along a bumpy asphalt road in one of the most grisly hate crime murders in recent Texas history.

There was no doubt about his guilt. He committed a hate crime and murder as evil as any ever committed. This crime makes it easy to see why the death penalty has so many supporters. Yet Brewer did not deserve to die either, because nobody deserves to be put to death. We must always remember that.

 

 

 

News International And War Dead Relatives

In the wake of the News of the World’s depraved phone-hacking of dead soldiers’ relatives, I thought it would be a good time to revisit what its daily sister paper considered such a grievous insult to our war dead it led a manipulative and nasty campaign against then Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Misspelling a dead soldiers name, poor handwriting, and worst of all, not dotting his Is:

COMMITTED four other spelling mistakes: Greatst for greatest, condolencs for condolences, you instead of your, and colleagus for colleagues.

He also wrote the letter “i” incorrectly 18 times – mostly by leaving the dots off them but once by using two in “security”.

And he ended with a repetition – writing “my sincere condolences” and then signing off “Yours sincerely”

What an evil, evil man. How did he ever sleep at night?

The Sun proceeded to callously exploit the mother’s grief for its own ends, to viciously attack Brown. Which is the hallmark of Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets of course – exploitation, manipulation and hit jobs to try and obtain a certain political outcome.

News International: where spelling mistakes when writing an emotionally difficult letter to a dead soldier’s mother is a hanging offence, but illegally invading and violating the privacy of relatives is A-OK.

NOTW Phone Hacking: Dead Soldiers’ Families Also Targeted

Sweet Jesus. The News of the World scandal hits rock bottom:

Phones owned by relatives of dead UK soldiers were allegedly hacked by the News of the World, a national newspaper reports.

The Daily Telegraph claims the phone numbers of relatives of dead were found in the files of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

The Government can’t resist calls for a full public inquiry for much longer. And who knows what further revelations are coming? However, it will be extremely hard for it to get worse than being discovered to have hacked the phones of bereaved families of the men who fought and died for us. I’m running out of variants of ‘disgusting’ to describe this loathsome rag’s actions.

 

 

Rebekah Brooks Is Either Incompetent Or A Liar

Rebekah Brooks continues to deny all knowledge of the despicable hacks into Milly Dowler and 7/7 families’ phones, leading to only two possible conclusions: either Brooks was so incompetent an editor that she had no control over and no idea of what was being done by her own newspaper, or she’s a liar, neither of which does her credit.

As the Independent revealed today that she asked the same private detective who dug up the Dowlers’ number to do other searches, I’m leaning towards the latter.

Ms Brooks, while editor of NOTW, used Steve Whittamore, a private detective who specialised in obtaining illegal information, to “convert” a mobile phone number to find its registered owner. Mr Whittamore also provided the paper with the Dowlers’ ex-directory home phone number.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, which successfully prosecuted Whittamore for breaches of the Data Protection Act in 2005, said last night it would have been illegal to obtain the mobile conversion if the details had been “blagged” from a phone company.

Ms Brooks, who said yesterday she was “shocked and appalled” at the latest hacking claims, admitted requesting the information. But she said it could be obtained by “perfectly legitimate means.”

I highly doubt that, but let’s leave the ‘means’ aside for a minute and focus on her actual request – trying to discover the private owner of a private mobile phone for no justifiable reason, on top of gaining access to a phone number that was removed from the directory books precisely to stop unwanted callers from obtaining it. Ethics, schmethics.

 

Unreasonable Doubt

Rape victims already find it horrendously difficult to report the crime that was committed against them. We have a culture that seems to go out of its way to find ways to blame the victim for what happened to her – “If she hadn’t been drunk/worn that short skirt/acted like a flirt it wouldn’t have happened.” – while telling women ‘Don’t get raped’ instead of telling men ‘Don’t rape’. They face the knowledge that they will almost certainly have to confront the person who violated them and stole so much from them in court, have their character mercilessly assaulted by a defence lawyer, and that there’s a good chance that they could be forced to relive the horror and the perpetrator for nothing as he could be acquitted. Those women who come forward display an immense level of courage.

So the news that the jurors in the trial of two NYPD officers for the rape of an intoxicated woman in her own home chose to acquit them, even though they were convinced they were guilty, because there was no DNA evidence, has just struck another blow against the effort to get more women to try to bring their attackers to justice. For one thing – it is extremely common for women who have been raped to shower immediately, to scrub and wash the horrible feeling of their rapist off of them as soon as they can. This case shows that now this could well mean the chances of their rapists being brought to justice have plummeted. And furthermore, the fact that the defendants in this case were police officers is likely to damage a lot of people’s faith in the justice system. People will ask: would they have been acquitted if they hadn’t been cops? How can you seek justice from those who are seemingly above it?

Here are snippets of what the jurors said. If their comments don’t enrage you, nothing will:

“[Kenneth Moreno] raped her,” the unidentified female juror tells DNAinfo. “There is no doubt in my mind.”But never mind that whole “beyond a reasonable doubt” business, today’s modern jury demands DNA. As juror John Finck, 57, explains, “We were strictly bound by the judge’s instruction that there must be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the defendants of the major charges of the case.”

That does NOT mean there needs to be DNA evidence, but as one legal expert told the Post after the verdict was announced, “CSI has made things difficult, there’s no law saying that ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ means we show you DNA. It means ‘evidence that points to a moral certainty that is beyond dispute.’” “My heart breaks for her. I think the system failed her terribly,” says Hernandez, the juror who played a crucial role in the system that acquitted the cops.

“I think the system failed her terribly.” You’ve got to love that ‘system’, a convenient way for individuals like Hernandez to avoid responsibility for their own decisions that have an enormous impact on the lives of other human beings. It pops up all the time – when people die, when injustice happens, it’s the impersonal, ambiguous monolith of The System that’s to blame, not human error, not human failure, not human ignorance. This is why miscarriages of justice on both sides of the court and in other walks of life will continue to happen, because as long as we can all comfortably blame injustice on an abstract thing that doesn’t really exist, people can avoid accountability, the buck can be passed, and no effort need be made to educate people about crucial things like the definition of ‘reasonable doubt’.

But that’s not to say there aren’t problems with juries. The key is in that first word, ‘reasonable’. As we see here in this appalling case, juries are now seeing not just any doubt in their minds, but anything that could cause doubt as enough to vote in favour of the accused. This has always been one of the major flaws of trial by jury, and why I have long believed professional jurors would vastly improve justice systems. By throwing 12 random people together who likely as not know nothing about law, are not trained to think logically or weigh evidence, the result is that you are inevitably going to get ridiculous verdicts like this, because the jury is ignorant of what reasonable doubt actually is – and thus so frightened of sending an innocent person to jail that the tiniest of discrepancies get blown up into reasons not to convict.

 

 

 

Bystander Who Filmed Cops Shooting Man To Death Has Phone Seized, Destroyed At Gunpoint

This is seriously fucked up:

Miami Beach police did their best to destroy a citizen video that shows them shooting a man to death in a hail of bullets Memorial Day.

First, police pointed their guns at the man who shot the video, according to a Miami Herald interview with the videographer.

Then they ordered the man and his girlfriend out the car and threw them down to the ground, yelling “you want to be fucking paparazzi?”

Then they snatched the cell phone from his hand and slammed it to the ground before stomping on it. Then they placed the smashed phone in the videographer’s back pocket as he was laying down on the ground.

Unfortunately for these fascists masquerading as public protectors, the man had removed the SIM card, so his video survived the destruction of his phone. And their actions alone, let alone whatever that video contains, suggest there needs to be an investigation into why and how the man they shot to death was killed.

It’s getting to the point where you’d do well to question the actions of any cop who’s touchy about being filmed by a member of the public they’re supposed to serve. After all, as is the common refrain of authority figures, if you’ve got nothing to hide, you should have nothing to worry about, no?

 

Nadine Dorries: If Only Child Sex Victims Had Said No, They Might Not Have Been Molested

While wingnuttia’s never gotten a real foothold in Britain, it raises its ugly head often enough to remind us it exists. Nadine Dorries proves she’s just as stupid, and just as cruel as her counterparts across the pond by actually suggesting child abuse victims could have prevented their own molestation:

All is not well on Planet Dorries. Two weeks after the Mid Bedfordshire MP introduced a sexist private member’s bill which would teach only girls the virtue of sexual abstinence and “how to say no”, Nadine has helped to advance the myth that child sexual abuse is linked to the behaviour of children.

On Channel 5′s Vanessa show on Monday she opined:

“If a stronger ‘just say no’ message was given to children in school then there might be an impact on sex abuse … if we imbued this message in school we’d probably have less sex abuse.”

We see victim-blaming sadly far too often when it comes to sexual crimes, but blaming child victims of sexual assault has got to be an all time low. This makes my gorge rise, it’s so loathsome. Do I really need to point out that adults are EASILY, EASILY able to overpower and/or emotionally manipulate kids into being abused? That there is a reason society feels a particularly intense revulsion towards those who commit child rape?

And as a survivor of abuse myself (I guess I didn’t say no loudly enough!) I not-so-cordially invite Nadine Dorries to go fuck herself. To hear this from one of my elected representatives makes incredibly angry, revolted and not a little depressed.

Chris Huhne Has Been A Bit Of A Twit

Points on your licence for driving like a wally is one thing. Trying to fob them off on someone else is another, being ever so slightly against the law and all. And then trying to cover it up is, well, something that has generally not worked out well for politicians.

Paperback Rioter can exclusively reveal the transcript of a call from the Sunday Times to Chris Huhne after they published the details of the cover-up phone call.

Adding…Dear Lib Dems, if you must get caught with your pants down, can you try and not do it when you are in a strong position to do good (I’m looking at you, Vince and David) or have just managed to secure a rare victory for the left, like the carbon emission reduction agreement?

Maddie Fatigue

Actually, to be more accurate, it’s more ‘McCann fatigue’. Heartless this may sound, but I am truly sick of the sight of both Kate and Gerry McCann. Today came news that no less a person than the Prime Minister is personally intervening and ordering the police to reopen the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance.

The intervention came after Kate and Gerry McCann made an impassioned appeal for the PM to help them revive the search for their daughter.

The girl vanished in Portugal in 2007 shortly before her fourth birthday.

The Metropolitan Police are to now “bring their expertise” to the search for Madeleine after a personal request from the Prime Minister.

“There has been a huge amount of public interest in this case since it began, Madeleine McCann has been missing for a long time, there is the international dimension,” Mr Cameron’s official spokesman said.

“The Prime Minister has been clear that he wants to do everything he can to support the family.”

The part highlighted in bold is apparently what makes the case ‘exceptional’ enough to merit the country’s leader personally lending a powerful hand. One can only imagine what the family of Ben Needham, who vanished without trace in 1991 must feel, as he too has been missing for a very long time, went missing overseas, and at the time there was considerable public interest in his disappearance too. Yet they received no response whatsoever from the Prime Minister then or now, as this BBC article shows.

100000 children go missing in the UK every year. Yet only a fraction ever receive attention from the media, and certainly none have had the Prime Minister intervening to try and ensure they are safely found. Why is Madeleine McCann different? Why, instead of throwing so much effort into helping one couple, does David Cameron not try and do something which will improve the chances of children who disappear in the future of being discovered alive? This is what annoys me so much about this case. We have seen several cases where the parents of children who have gone missing or been murdered who have led campaigns to try and stop it happening to other children. Look at Sara Payne, who after her daughter Sarah was brutally murdered, went on to fight for ‘Sarah’s Law’: a law that would inform parents about any paedophiles that were living in their neighbourhood.

The McCanns have done no such thing. To the contrary, they have literally used their daughter’s disappearance to their own benefit – using money donated by generous, kind hearted people to help find their daughter to pay their mortgage instead,  cashing in further by writing a book (what can Kate McCann possibly have to tell us that she hasn’t told us several hundred times over the past four years?) I no longer have the slightest sliver of sympathy for them. I do however, feel desperately sorry for poor little Madeleine, who is probably long since dead, who had the deep misfortune of having parents so self-absorbed they were quite happy to leave her and her siblings alone in a flat in a foreign country while they went out and had a good time.

The tragedy of the Madeleine McCann case is that it reaffirms what many of us have long believed in regards to missing children: help, attention and concern will only come if the child in question is lucky enough to be cute, white and from an upper-middle class family.