A Race Not Worth Winning

As April 30 approaches, a batch of vials on a shelf somewhere deep in the dirty bowels of the Arkansas Department of Correction anxiously await their expiration date. Not too far away, seven men — equally anxious — hope that the vials of intravenous midazolam expire before they do themselves.

When officials in Arkansas recently announced a marathon rush to execute eight death-row prisoners in 11 days, everyone knew why. The state’s supply of midazolam was going bad quicker than a Sean Spicer presser.

As pundits and jurists urgently discuss the legitimacy of the death penalty and how the death race in Arkansas has reignited capital punishment question, why are none of them talking about what the state’s agenda says about humanity? It is a poor commentary on the nation when its leaders prioritize a dozen vials of a lethal drug over human life.

It is of no consequence that the death penalty is barbaric, costly, or ineffective. The key element in what is happening in Arkansas is a disappointing and revolting statement on bureaucratic governance. It is an abomination of executive authority and economic policy that actual state employees in actual state offices sat down and conceived the “8-in-11 Race.”

What I would truly like to know is this: How does the bureaucrat — the one who waved a hand in a meeting and said, “Hey fellas, we gotta use this stuff!” — in charge of Arkansas’ supply of midazolam sleep? When I think of the type of people I want governing…this is certainly not the person I envision.

In the past 40 years, the United States has executed almost 1,400 men and women. In doing so, our nation joins such esteemed company of countries like Iran, North Korea, China, and Yemen who routinely kill prisoners. It is a sad and undeniable irony that these are four nations regularly condemned by U.S. politicians as terrorist states and sponsors and human rights abusers. Two-thirds of all nations have banned the death penalty, which is why states like Arkansas are rushing to use their supply of midazolam — no civilized nation will sell it to U.S. prisons anymore.

Tough-on-crime politicians still falsely tout the death penalty as a deterrent, even though there is no empirical proof of such claims. Conversely, according to Amnesty International and FBI crime statistics, in 2008 there were 14 states in the U.S. without the death penalty that had homicide rates below the national average. And since 1990, murder rates in non-capital punishment states have remained consistently lower than those states that supposedly deter homicide by applying the death penalty as punishment.

Death-penalty proceedings do more than take lives unnecessarily. They cost more, too. On average, the present cost of a death-penalty trial is almost $2.5 million. Since capital defendants often cannot afford the cost of a lawyer, they are invariably disadvantaged and doomed by ineffectiveness of counsel claims attributable to overworked and inexperienced defenders. The costs for protracted death-penalty trials are nothing more than a tax burden in jurisdictions where the death penalty is applied.

Returning to the race in Arkansas, not one of these facts, studies, or opinions matter. When midnight arrives on May 1, the only issue that should matter to anyone who walks on two legs is that a human life — any person’s life — is worth more than a vial of expired anesthetic. Because when that no longer matters, the death penalty itself will be the least of our worries as a race…

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