Columns » Max Brantley

Executionpalooza

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Appearances count. I was struck by a single sentence over the weekend in a full page of coverage in The New York Times devoted to the killing spree in Arkansas, beginning with a front-page account of the recent flurry of legal filings on pending executions and continuing inside with an interview with Damien Echols, the former death row inmate.

The sentence: "The crush of state-sponsored killings has reignited a national debate over capital punishment at a time of confusing crosscurrents in the United States, with President Trump, who has expressed support for the death penalty, ascending to the White House even as executions fell to a 25-year low last year, and polls showing public support for it at its lowest level in decades."

Yes, the "crush of state-sponsored killings" brought world media to Arkansas's door. And our rush to kill people unwittingly helped the cause of those who oppose capital punishment.

Governor Hutchinson set a schedule over 240 hours (10 days on the clock) beginning at 7 p.m. April 17 and continuing through a double-header beginning at 7 p.m. April 27 (11 calendar days) to kill eight men. He didn't want the state to be inconvenienced further by expiration dates in its illicit, street-corner-junkie style hunt for killing drugs. This sent it to improbable and dubious and unauthorized suppliers, conveniently kept secret by complicit legislators. No respectable drug manufacturer or supplier wants anything to do with supplying drugs intended to prolong life as instruments of death. The state lied repeatedly in at least one case to get its fix of killing dope.

Had Hutchinson strung the deaths out over four to six months, they'd have proceeded with the usual last-minute legal wrangling, the occasional hiccup and, likely, a slow and measured resumption of the death penalty in Arkansas. (That is, presuming the use of the controversial sedative midazolam didn't go awry as it has in other states.) The Arkansas death news would have been a few paragraphs in AP roundups around the world.

Instead, we have a circus. It's of little political consequence in Arkansas. It probably even helps Hutchinson with the pro-death majority. I hope, however, that all those who support the death penalty aren't as bloodthirsty as those who dominate Facebook threads on the executions or the Twitter posts of Republican legislators. Advocates of the U.S. Constitution, particularly the 8th Amendment, they are not. Many volunteered to serve on firing squads and bring their own rifles and ammo.

I'd like to see one of those PR studies on the amount of free media Hutchinson's Executionpalooza generated for Arkansas, much as cable TV fascination with President Trump powered his ascendancy to the presidency.

You tell me: plus or minus for Arkansas?

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