By Contributor on February 04, 2013

By David A. Love

The death penalty is actually on the decline in America. And that’s as it should be.

The imposition of the death penalty is rife with corruption, incompetence, race and class bias and human error. Often, the innocent are killed.

Last year, when Damon Thibodeaux was released from Louisiana’s death row at Angola after spending 15 years awaiting his own murder, he became the 300th innocent person freed from a U.S. prison based on DNA testing.

Executions are not taking place nearly as often as they used to in America. Last year, 43 people were executed in the United States. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, three-quarters of the 43 executions in 2012 took place in only four states — Texas, Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. And of the 78 death sentences last year — a 20-year low — almost two-thirds took place in Florida, California, Texas and Alabama.

Although on the books in 33 states, only nine states made use of the death penalty in 2012. Throughout the nation, states are having second thoughts about capital punishment.

On Jan. 15, the actual birthday of Martin Luther King, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced his plan to eliminate the death penalty in his state.

“Every dollar we choose to spend on an ineffective death penalty is a dollar we’re not spending on crime-fighting technologies and tools that actually work,” said O’Malley. “Investing in law enforcement, data-driven policing, performance measurement, strengthening partnerships, investing in the latest crime fighting technologies, DNA analysis – these are the ways we drive down crime.”

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe recently stated he would sign a death penalty ban if the legislature sent him a bill. Beebe remarked that signing his first death warrant changed his mind about the death penalty. “The awesome burden of being the last person to have to sign one of those things sobers you differently than talking about it in the abstract,” Beebe said.

In Oregon, a death penalty repeal bill is being prepared, over a year after Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a moratorium for the rest of his tenure.

Europe, Canada, Australia and nearly the entire Western world forbids executions. But when the U.N. General Assembly recently passed a nonbinding resolution for a worldwide death penalty moratorium, the United States voted against it.

The United States joins China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq as the world’s top five executioners. That’s quite an axis of execution.

David A. Love is the executive director of Witness to Innocence, a national organization of exonerated former death row prisoners and their families. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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