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.”


‘Tortured To Death’

Image of Picasso work

Spare us the euphemisms. Call the so-called “botched execution” here Tuesday evening what it really was: A man was tortured in secrecy until he died from the result of that torture.

I use the word “secrecy” because we don’t know the drugs that were used to torture and then kill Charles Derrel Lockett, 38, who was sentenced to die by lethal injection. After the drugs were administered, Lockett writhed and groaned until officials halted the execution and closed the curtains on those viewing the gruesome spectacle through a window. By then it was too late.

Lockett, we were told, died 40 some minutes later of a heart attack.

Within minutes of his death, as word leaked out, Oklahoma made national and worldwide news in perhaps the worst way possible. The British Broadcasting Company covered it. It was one of the leading stories on the website of The New York Times. It will surely be covered by all three major national news networks this evening.

The term mimicked by all the media outlets was “botched execution,” but the underlying implication was that it was more than the usual red-state incompetence and right-wing weirdness. It told the story of an inhumane, “eye-for-an-eye” majority of people in a particular state, people who vote overwhelmingly for conservative politicians that not only support the death penalty but are also radical supporters of its real, ongoing practice. These same politicians also support laws that ensure the state will have a steady supply for the executioner and its prisons.

It is Oklahoma’s shame. But are Gov. Mary Fallin and her Republican-dominated government leaders even capable of feeling guilt over what happened? Probably not.

The right-wing here will surely crow that Lockett was a vicious murderer who in 1999 killed a 19-year-old woman. The woman was then buried alive. Where is the sympathy for that woman and her family? Who cares whether Lockett felt any pain or not? This will be the crux of the argument.

But that logic, as always, misses the point when it comes to the death penalty. We should strive to be a nation of laws but also a humane nation. Of course, Lockett’s crime was horrendous but by “botching” his execution through incompetence and in secrecy we’re merely responding to violence with more violence in a never-ending cycle. It’s time to end the death penalty, and Lockett’s torture and death is a perfect example why it should be ended once and for all.

The ingredients of the three-drug “cocktail”—another euphemism—used to kill Lockett remains unknown because officials don’t want to publicize the names of the companies who manufacture and sell the drugs. States are now finding it difficult to find drugs to use in executions because of growing opposition to the death penalty and companies unwilling to sell them for that purpose.

Fallin did issue a stay of execution for another inmate, Charles Warner, 46, who was scheduled to be killed right after Lockett, but that was only for 14 days. Fallin wants a review of what happened. Warner was convicted of raping and killing an 11-year-old girl in 1997. Warner’s attorney used the term “tortured to death” to describe Lockett’s execution Tuesday evening.

No one is arguing effectively that Lockett and Warner didn’t commit heinous acts, but does that mean the state should respond with its own heinous act? At the very least, we should know what drugs are being used in executions and how they work on the body. If anything in our culture should be transparent it certainly should be the process used by the government to kill its citizens.