The New Abolitionist Movement


Justice Sonia Sotomayor, how dare you suggest that a sedative with a ceiling might constitute cruel and unusual punishment? Or that firing squad, gas chamber or electric chair might be faster and more humane than lethal injection?

That was the reproof that Chief Justice Roberts gave her last week while hearing testimony on the woes of the poor little death penalty states, particularly Oklahoma, on how they can keep on shoveling souls on death row into the next life.

At issue is the sedative midazolam, which has not been putting executees into a deep enough state so that they do not feel the agony of paralysis and organs shutting down as the next two chemicals are injected. One of the surreal aspects of that hearing was Roberts’ suggestion that firing squads et al are “offensive.” Apparently writhing in agony on a gurney for 40 minutes or so is not.

Increasing the dosage of midazolam does not help; its efficacy is not increased by more of it, thus it is said to have a ceiling effect. The case was brought to the Supreme Court on behalf of three death row prisoners in Oklahoma.

Justice Sam Alito blamed “guerilla wars” by opponents of the death penalty who have pressured pharmaceutical companies into restricting the sale of previous drugs used in executions. Justice Antonin Scalia called anti-death penalty advocacy an “abolitionist movement.” Okay, I needed another movement to be part of.

Justice Sotomayor’s questions pointed up the absurdity of the entire discussion. Judicial homicide is just not humane, period. Nothing will ever make it so.

Meanwhile, Baltimore’s tragedy has brought new crazies out of the woodwork. A letter in the newspaper that serves my county asked Monday, “Why haven’t t black leaders fixed things for ‘their people’?”

As if African-Americans are a separate species who can only be treated with by their own kind. As if racism were their fault. Racism isn’t a black problem; it is a white problem that only acknowledgement and the dismantling of the white privilege structure will begin to address.

Of course, while racism is a white problem, it is the people of color who suffer its effects on a daily basis. Not just when police kill a black man or child, but every single day in White World.

I was driving through southern Maryland the other day. At a rest stop, I noticed a truck with a Confederate flag decal on it. Did I confront the owner of the truck? No, I did not. I was hundreds of miles from home and no one knew where I was. You have to pick your battles to fight another day.

An hour or so later, on a route that goes through a built-up area with a lot of traffic lights, I happened to glance over a couple of lanes to my left. A young black girl was looking out the window of her back seat. She saw me at the same time and gave me a big, wistful smile. I smiled too and raised my hand in greeting. She gave me a shy wave as the car she was in started its left turn.

It made my day. Every day I pray for the Holy Spirit to “grant me humbly to receive thy mysterious companionships.” I’m pretty sure that was one of them. But I teared up as I drove off thinking of those people who would rather hate than love their neighbors.

And would rather kill than redeem their prisoners.


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