There have been plenty of lockdowns for Willie Manning on Mississippi’s death row lately, but at least there have been no executions there since 2012. Jim Hood, the Attorney General, wants that to change. And if that means using nitrogen gas, a firing squad, or an electric chair, then so be it. There are recent precedents in other states for admitting alternatives to lethal injections: Oklahoma permits nitrogen gas, Utah favors the firing squad, and Tennessee has the electric chair.
Hood’s appeal to lawmakers to allow alternative execution methods stems from his wish for the state to maintain executions even if litigation blocks the use of lethal execution drugs. His argument lacks morality. As Pope Francis observes:
“There is discussion in some quarters about the method of killing, as if it were possible to find ways of ‘getting it right.’ … But there is no humane way of killing another person.”
Mississippi lawmakers will soon be confronting this reality. With proper debate they will discover that lethal injections, far from inducing a peaceful sleep, have been designed to disguise the inmate’s pain and appear peaceful. Conversely, firing squads may cause less pain; but their obvious violence is an affront to modern values of civilized behavior. As Jason Silverstein concludes,
“[T]he only real thing distinguishing nitrogen executions from firing squads from lethal injections from electrocutions from hangings from beheadings is our own comfort as witnesses.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi quickly attacked Hood’s proposals as “barbaric”, and the death penalty itself as “cruel and unusual punishment”. It adds:
“[W]e believe that the state should not give itself the right to kill human beings – especially when it kills with premeditation and ceremony, in the name of the law or in the name of its people, and when it does so in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion.”
We agree. Mississippi should take this chance to reconsider. It is time to abolish the death penalty for good.