Message of Retribution

Image of David Prater

I have meant for some time to revisit some courtroom statements made by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater in a case in which a man was recently sentenced to death. I thought about it again after attending last night’s meeting as a board member of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

The man Prater’s statements referred to is Albert Ray Johnson, 49, who was convicted in June of raping his girlfriend and her friend, beating both of them, and then killing his girlfriend’s friend. He was sentenced to death by a jury for the murder. The late Oklahoma County District Judge Donald Deason formally sentenced him to death in July. Johnson also has previous felony convictions for violent crimes, according to one media report.

As reported in the media, one of Prater’s arguments in the case was that this was a strong one for the death penalty. During arguments, as reported, Prater said, “Whether this defendant is incarcerated or out, he is a very dangerous human being. It's time to look at what he did. If you give him life without parole, what's the message?" Prater continued to tell the jury, “You will not have a stronger case to consider the death penalty on.”

It’s true that it’s difficult to make a strong if any case for Johnson’s rehabilitation given his history, violent nature of his crimes and age, but I’m opposed to the death penalty even in cases like this. Johnson will end up in an appeals process that will take years and will be paid for by taxpayers. It’s even quite possible the U.S. Supreme Court could abolish the death penalty while Johnson awaits his fate on death row, meaning the taxpayer money spent on his appeals to reverse the death-penalty decision will be for nothing. In addition, it’s unlikely that Johnson will receive adequate mental health services, which could create problems for correction officers. At the trial, his public defender conceded Johnson killed the woman—the crime for which he received the death penalty—but argued Johnson suffers from mental illness.

The meme goes something like this: “We kill people to show people that they shouldn’t kill people."

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Progressives Need To Go Beyond Usual Political Language This Year

The writer Glenn Greenwald, who ruthlessly analyzes American politics as he pinpoints its disappointments and foibles, probably has the best take so far on the current and changing political milieu in the world, and it could apply to the current conservative moment in Oklahoma as well.

Greenwald, who has written for Salon and other publications and sites and helped found Intercept, said in a recent interview with Slate that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is a dangerous politician but the response to his threat and support have been somewhat misconstrued. In the interview, Greenwald notes:

Do you think the people voting for Donald Trump because they feel their economic future has been destroyed, or because they are racist, or because they feel fear of immigrants and hate the U.S. elite structure and want Trump to go and blow it up, give the slightest s—about Ukraine, that Trump is some kind of agent of Putin? They don’t! Just like the Brexit supporters.

The interview, which I linked to above, is wide-ranging and nuanced. Greenwald devotes a lot of his words to the recent Democratic National Convention email hack release by Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange, but I want to focus on the above quote because I think it can be applied here in Oklahoma as well.

Too often, the national media and even progressives think that by simply calling out someone as a racist, sexist or liar will have some type of impact on changing people’s minds or on an election. There have been some cases, usually involving scandal, where that has been the case, but, as Greenwald notes, Trump supporters just don’t care about the larger ramifications of his presidency. They just want to “blow it up” in the figurative sense and see what happens.

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The Right Question

So the latest U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe statement that’s percolating in the media is that he believes students are getting brainwashed into believing in global warming.

Inhofe made this statement in a radio show interview last week:

You know, our kids are being brainwashed? I never forget because I was the first one back in 2002 to tell the truth about the global warming stuff and all of that. And my own granddaughter came home one day and said “Popi (see “I” is for Inhofe, so it’s Momi and Popi, ok?), Popi, why is it you don’t understand global warming?” I did some checking and Eric, the stuff that they teach our kids nowadays, you have to un-brainwash them when they get out.

Note the Trump-like bragging—“I was the first one,” etc.—and, of course, also note the “un-brainwash them" remark. Inhofe has been a notorious denier of the impact of climate change on the planet, calling it a hoax created by liberal scientists intent on bringing down the fossil fuel industry.

As ThinkProgress pointed out in its post on the remarks, and as I’ve pointed out here before, Inhofe has received around $2 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. Does anyone think that really doesn’t influence his crusade against basic science? It’s a matter of caring, not believing, here in Oklahoma. A majority of voters here simply don’t care.

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