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Oklahoma Has Image Issues

Image of Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl days

I’ve been trying today to remember a time when Oklahoma’s national image was this negative and, really, just downright cataclysmic for the state, and I just can’t come up with a time period. The Dust Bowl days in the 1930s?

Here’s just a partial list of what has been in the national news about Oklahoma recently:

(1) We lead the nation in executions on a per capita basis.

(2) Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of fatal police shootings on a per capita basis.

(3) We imprison the most women on a per capita basis.

(4) We lead the contiguous United States in the number of 3.0-magnitude or higher earthquakes we endure because of a portion of the fracking process.

(5) We have cut education funding the most of any state since the 2008 economic downturn.

(6) Attorney General Scott Pruitt continues his relentless and laughable legal wars against the Environmental Protection Agency and the Affordable Care Act.

(7) U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe recently held a snowball in his hand on the Senate floor and claimed once and for all it proves global warming is a left-wing conspiracy. He was widely mocked throughout the world.

(8) The governor’s daughter was living in a recreation vehicle at the state “mansion.” The story became known as “trailergate.” It got widespread, national coverage.

(9) The Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol has created controversy and silliness widely reported throughout the world.

(10) U.S. Sen. James Lankford isn’t doing much as a political leader these days but attacking Planned Parenthood based on secretly recorded and obviously biased and fraudulent videos. He’s widely known as a fanatic ideologue in Washington but adored by The Oklahoman editorial board as some wise sage.

(11) Oklahoma faces a massive teacher shortage because of low pay and poor working conditions. The state’s anti-education mentality has never been on such wide display than now, or at least I can’t remember such a time.

(12) The Oklahoma Health Care Authority just cut the payment rate for developmental disabilities service providers. Read that sentence again.

Fill in the blank. I know I’m leaving something out when I haven’t even mentioned state Rep. Sally Kern or any other of the cast of characters in the state legislature that sponsor obviously unconstitutional bills that cost the state money in legal fees when they have to be unsuccessfully defended.

We kill. We imprison. We cut education. We deny health care to poor people because they are poor. The world looks on at the spectacle, and it costs the state economic development and lowers our quality of life here.

There’s not much to be done to save Oklahoma’s image at this point, especially since the local media is complicit in the tragedy. They wallow in the cesspool, get used to the stench and rake in what conventional advertising dollars are still left out there based on the Okie spectacle . . . for now. Laugh or cry. Take your pick. Oklahoma is a longtime laughingstock of the world, and it’s only getting worse, folks. No, not even the Oklahoma City Thunder can get us out of this mess with a national championship.

The Oklahoma Standard: Kill, Imprison, Cut Education Funding

Image of state Capitol and a church

(I only have time for a short post today. The post might seem negative to some people, but nothing will change if we ignore reality.)

My last post mentioned how Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of executions it performs on a per capita basis, but I failed to mention that Oklahoma City also leads the nation in the number of people on a per capita basis killed by police.

What’s the correlation? It seems obvious on one level. Oklahoma is a violent place where human lives are not as valued as they are elsewhere in the country or in many places in the world. I think this is true to some extent. The state has an abundance of “pro-life” religious people, including many state leaders, concerned about the welfare of embryos, but they care less about people put to death on a regular basis by the state or killed by police.

Here’s a Washington Post article about police killings on a national level, listing Oklahoma City as the highest in the nation in such deaths. Here’s a database in The Guardian that does the same thing.

Okay, yes, it’s too easy to just pass off Oklahoma as a violent place that doesn’t value human life. It’s nuanced. Oklahoma’s lack of anything remotely close to adequate investment in education and mental health programs is probably the main reason for our high “kill” rate and our high incarceration numbers. Oklahoma, for example, also leads the nation in the number of women it incarcerates on a per capita basis.

We kill. We imprison. We don’t invest in education. We don’t invest in our citizens’ overall health. We do this under the false perception that we are friendly, pious folk, the nicest people in the world, right? I use “we” here because not enough people here speak up about these pressing issues, and I concede it’s probably best to just leave Oklahoma than fight the established power structure. What’s the point? Some of us get stuck here, of course, for a variety of reasons, usually related to family or employment, so we grit our teeth and endure the stench of death and mediocrity.

Unfortunately, given the current political climate in the state it appears not much is going to change anytime soon. Kill. Imprison. Cut public education funding. Cut public health funding. It’s in the water now. It’s Oklahoma tradition. This is now the real Oklahoma Standard.

Stop The Glossip Execution

Anti-Death Penalty Summit - Jan. 28, 2012 on Flickr The Commons

It’s the standard adage here.

Oklahomans are the nicest people.

Well, that is, until it comes to executing people. When you look at it with that frame of reference, as people living in a particular legal jurisdiction in this country, we and especially our great leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, are simply bloodthirsty barbarians waiting expectantly for their next victim.

Oklahoma likes to kill its criminals. We lead the nation in the per capita number of criminal executions. Since 1976, the state has killed 112 people. Oklahoma was even the first state to implement lethal injection to make everyone feel better about killing people. We also imprison the largest number of women in the nation on a per capita basis as well. We’re widely known for killing people and imprisoning women.

Howdy, y'all. People are so friendly in Oklahoma.

Richard Glossip is scheduled to be killed by Oklahoma on September 16. He was convicted of murder in the 1997 beating death of Barry Van Treese, who was his boss and an owner of an Oklahoma City motel.

Here’s the information everyone needs to be focused on: Glossip didn’t actually kill his boss, and he claims he is innocent.

He was convicted on what prominent people and lawyers say is extremely slim evidence. He was accused of asking Justin Sneed to kill Van Treese. Sneed, in fact, admitted he beat Van Treese to death and was given life in prison in the case, but he claimed Glossip asked him to do the killing. Van Treese’s wife testified at the trial that she and her husband had found $6,000 missing from the hotel’s financial accounts and planned to approach Glossip about the issue before her husband was killed.

But as actor Susan Sarandon has pointed out recently, there is no actual physical evidence that Glossip asked Sneed to kill Van Treese. Where’s the tape recording? Where are the corroborating witnesses? Sarandon, who starred in the film Dead Man Walking, has publicly asked Gov. Mary Fallin to grant Glossip a 60-day reprieve so his attorneys can gather and present more evidence on his behalf. Anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean, who was depicted in the movie by Sarandon, has also asked Fallin to intervene. Fallin has declined.

There are two major points to be made here:

(1) The death penalty is barbaric and has been increasingly banned or not practiced here in the United States and throughout the world. Nebraska of all places just this year joined a growing number of states that have abolished the death penalty. Oklahomans should be ashamed we live in a place that leads the nation in this type of cruelty.

(2) Glossip didn’t kill anyone. Even if you’re in favor of the death penalty, this should be a no-brainer. He didn’t kill anyone. Even if he did coordinate the killing, which is a disputed fact not supported by physical evidence, he didn’t do the actual killing. The actual confessed murderer, who could have simply informed authorities about Glossip and not beat someone to death, will be allowed to live. Why not simply give Glossip life in prison without a chance for parole? Why even take the minutest chance of killing an innocent person?

The victim’s family and friends absolutely deserve our sympathies and justice, but life in prison is a major sentence. That’s what the killer received in this case. Even James Eagan Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured 70 people in 2012 at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, received life in prison.

The case against Glossip is tenuous and ambiguous at best. Fallin needs to do the right thing in this case and at the very least grant Glossip a temporary reprieve. As Sarandon, who called Fallin a “horrible person,” recently said about Glossip, “He's put there by a snitch who actually did kill the person, and then the snitch has life and this guy is being put to death on the 16th.”

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