NY Times editorial faults Arkansas's execution rush | Arkansas Blog

NY Times editorial faults Arkansas's execution rush


DEATH CHAMBER: Busy schedule in April.
  • DEATH CHAMBER: Busy schedule in April.
The New York Times editorial page today criticizes Arkansas's rush to execute eight people in 10 days in April because of vagaries in supplying the three drugs used in the lethal injection process.

(In Arkansas politics today, condemnation by the New York Times is likely viewed by many as a badge of honor. There ARE, however, people whose major economic decisions are shaped by national attention to Arkansas — be it in blood-thirsty execution practice, discrimination against LGBT people, efforts to suppress voting by poor and minorities, abandonment of true public schools, promotion of religion in government and so on.)

A key problem is that a batch of midazolam is about to expire. The Times comments:

That drug, the sedative midazolam, is supposed to render the inmate unconscious, and thus lead to a “quieter” death. In practice it has been associated with multiple botched executions resulting in intense pain and suffering for inmates — “the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake,” as Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court described it in 2015. Legal challenges have made it harder for states to obtain midazolam, and have slowed the pace of executions around the country. Arkansas has not executed anyone since 2005, mostly because of litigation surrounding its lethal-injection protocol.

But for now the drug is still legal, and last month the Supreme Court declined to review the last of the Arkansas cases, paving the way for the state to set new execution dates. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he would prefer to spread the executions over a longer period, but “that’s not the circumstances that I find myself in.”

In other words, he’s justifying a state-sanctioned killing spree driven by the use-by date stamped on a bottle. Arkansas has also run out of potassium chloride, another drug in the three-drug lethal cocktail, but says it expects to be able to get more by April.

The paradox is that it’s not hard to kill people if you’re willing to tolerate some gore. Arkansas could change its law to allow the use of a firing squad, for instance, which is faster and more reliable than lethal injection. Instead, like almost all other states, it has opted for a “medically sterile aura of peace,” as Justice Sotomayor wrote in February, dissenting from the court’s decision not to hear a challenge to Alabama’s use of midazolam. More bluntly, Americans want to indulge their bloodlust without having to think about the blood. Lethal-injection protocols indulge this squeamishness, and in the process disregard a condemned person’s constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

But killing in the government’s name is a brutal business, no matter the method used. The American death-penalty debate would be more honest if the public were forced to face that fact. States that kill their citizens, Justice Sotomayor wrote, “should not be permitted to shield the true horror of executions from official and public view.”
Arkansas gets it. Access to executions is strictly limited. The identity of the executioner isn't revealed. The provenance of the drugs used isn't known. The state acts as if it has something to hide, which, of course, it does.

Note: Electrocution remains a legal means of execution under Arkansas law. Further legal action is expected to attempt to stop the round of eight executions in April.

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