Rick Halperin was far from circumspect about capital punishment when he spoke on a United Nations panel last week (see video at 19.00). He condemned the death penalty as ‘state sponsored revenge’, ‘physical and psychological terror and torture’, and a symptom of an ‘infantile’ and immature country acquiescing in the ‘preposterous myth’ that executions can be carried out humanely.
Nor was Halperin polite about those who condone this atrocity: he decried the ‘outrageous’ decisions of the US Supreme Court judges, all of whom vote for the systematic extermination of human beings; and he denounced the culture that permits a Presidential election where candidates all support this violation of human rights. To Halperin (and many others), the death penalty should be the one central human rights issue of the election.
There is no doubt that Willie Manning agrees with all of Halperin’s analysis. But one comment in particular must strike a chord at the moment. Halperin insists that the death penalty is far, far more than a single action of execution: it is, rather, a process that begins the moment the state announces its intention to seek a death sentence, and continues day in, day out, year after year, until the moment of death. It entails appalling conditions and violative acts and the terror and distress of being confined in close proximity with many human beings who are noisy and violent.
As in both Willie’s cases, the evidence used to secure a conviction may have been extremely suspect, but no-one with influence cares. Some on death row, including Willie, have suffered the ordeal of drifting to within hours of obliteration, only to be returned to the horrors of incarceration by a stay of execution. Nobody could remain unscathed after such trauma. And, as has happened to Willie, courts may overturn convictions, but then reinstate them, depriving inmates of any vestige of peace, security or hope.
It is no wonder that Willie remains unable to celebrate the recent reversal of one of his convictions by the Mississippi Supreme Court. As he wrote recently,
“I realize that the court’s most recent ruling is a huge victory for us. It’s just that, I can’t get excited as everyone until I’m riding out of this place. As of now it feels as if nothing has changed. I’ve seen the Supreme Court Mandate, so I know they’ve closed the book on the Brookville Garden case. But I guess when you’ve been burnt – that never leaves you.”