Archive for October 29th, 2010

By Duganz

With that wholesome, folksy nature, the Coal Cowboy – our state’s fearless appearance maker, the man who shakes a thousand hands, introduces himself as “Brian,” and gets rootin’ tootin’ mad at the legislature – is gearing up to help kill a man.

Following the failure of his most recent appeal, all that stands between Canadian citizen Ronald Smith and a long walk to Montana’s least homely doublewide, is Governor Brian. And, Brian is okay with that needle being put in Smith’s arm, and Smith being the fourth man executed in Montana since the state started executions again in 1995.

He’s already allowed the death penalty to happen once since taking office.

Smith, the only Canadian on Death Row in America (yeah, even including Texas), has a hearing November 3rd at Powell County Courthouse where he will learn when the State of Montana plans to kill him unless Brian decides not to. The Cowboy describes his feelings like this:

“You’re not talking to a governor who is jubilant about these things. It feels like you’re carrying more than the weight of an Angus bull on your shoulders.”

“Anybody who says they are absolutely sure about the death penalty is either in denial themselves or has not been paying attention. I’m not absolutely sure about the death penalty. There are very few people on the planet that have had that kind of experience. For almost everybody else it is a philosophical test because they’ll never actually be in a position where they’re involved in any way.”

“[Referring to the state-sanctioned killing of David Dawson in 2006] There were several calls to make sure the lines were open and then one last call at 11:56 (p.m.) to say everything is prepared at this end. The capital’s a very dark place at midnight. There’s nobody else there. I’m there by myself. It’s very quiet and the length of time from midnight until the phone rings again — while it will only be somewhere around four minutes — it could just as well be an eternity when they call to say it is done.”

Because, let’s be honest (and avoid cattle references when we’re talking about DEATH for crissakes), the Death Penalty is difficult for Brian because he is quite literally sitting by while others kill someone.  I’m not saying that every person on death row is innocent (Smith sure isn’t), but allow me to postulate a scenario:

You’re walking over the Orange Street Bridge, and you see one man stomping another man’s head into the ground. You know nothing of this victim — never met him, never knew him until this moment — and you’re the only one who can stop this.
You’d do so immediately, right?
Now, let’s say a person — an angel or something — whispers in your ear, “He murdered two people.” Would you instead sit there and do nothing? Would you praise the stomper as a Man of Justice, and feel good inside?

In my experience, no one can answer “yes” to that. But that’s exactly what the death penalty is: it’s a person killing another; it’s the state taking a person who is in no way a direct threat to the welfare of the people, strapping said person onto a table, placing an IV, and letting a three dose blend of poisons end the life of another human being. It may not be a street stomping, but sanitizing killing doesn’t make it less brutal, or wrong.

To rationalize, we say we kill them, because killing is wrong… unless its by order of the state. We do not charge ourselves; we go on living. We tell ourselves that the Death Penalty is something necessary; that without it we will have to pay soooooooo much money for criminals to eat and get dentures, and that these people don’t deserve that. I myself have met plenty of liberals who say things like, “I don’t think we should arrest drug dealers, but I can understand executing murderers.” (They, like their Republican counterparts, are always so keen to change the word “kill” to “execute” to make it seem much more sanitary.)

But the question is always as simple as this: How is Smith hurting you? He’s been in jail since 1983 for, as he’s admitted and been convicted of, killing two men because he “wanted to know what it felt like to kill somebody.” It’s a chilling, and brutally honest statement that gives us a view into the psyche of a murderer––a murderer who has been successfully locked away in jail for nearly 30 years. And during that time he’s not done a damn thing to you.

Regardless, we – all of us who pay taxes in the great state of Montana – are going to kill him, because killing is wrong (unless it’s done by the state).

On a previous blog I ran I wrote about why the death penalty is a waste of money, time, and ultimately shows a lack of civility amongst the bloodthirsty rabble supporting it. Here are the main points:

  1. It’s expensive (though for Montana that’s hard to prove since the government has never bothered pricing it).
  2. It doesn’t deter criminals, or thoughts of crime (Ex. People still follow Jesus despite that whole crucifixion incident).
  3. The practice eventually bites back when we realize we’ve killed an innocent person.
  4. It’s based on Nazi science.

I know that Ronald Smith is not an innocent man (far from it), but most of those points are still relevant. And more than that: He’s the only Canadian on death row. And no democracy has ever before executed a Canadian.

Yet on Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010, the state of Montana will make a final move to kill Ronald Smith, continuing the antiquated morality of the Old Testament: an eye for an eye. They will start a clock that will tick down every minute of every day getting ever closer to that moment – 11:56 p.m. – when Governor Brian Schweitzer will give the okay to allow a killing. And four minutes later Montana will be the first democratic government to ever kill a Canadian via the death penalty.

Unless the Governor is convinced to not do it. Unless we all stand up for something very simple: the belief that killing is wrong. That’s it. It’s that simple. We need to ask Brian Schweitzer to not use our money to kill a man, to not sully our image as a state and country with a needless death. I’m not asking for him to be released, I’m just asking that we not perpetuate ancient, stupid ideas.

Do the right thing Governor. If it helps you make up your mind, I’m sure you’ll even be asked to be on national TV again.


You can also help by contributing to the Montana Abolition Coalition.

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