4/23/14: OK, I will grant that photographs can be unflattering or misleading. But I see that picture of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin in today’s paper* and I can’t help feeling that some people are just naturally mean and ugly underneath, and so their homeliness shows up more readily than it does for others.
My grandparents used to own a little getaway cottage in rural northeastern Oklahoma, Ozarks country. They were “salt-of-the-earth” types, simple and conservative. Good people at heart, and certainly good to me, but prone to suspicion and intolerance like many of their neighbors in Oklahoma and Missouri (they lived in Kansas City). I think they would have sided with the majority of today’s Oklahoma public in the ongoing death penalty debate—they would have wanted the executions to proceed, especially given that both of the men scheduled to die are black.
Difficult to acknowledge, but true. And apparently still true of many Oklahomans today.
Ugly is as ugly does.
So my onetime Oklahoma connection makes me especially curious about the ongoing methodological debate over executions that’s currently occurring there.
Clayton Lockett is one of the two black men scheduled to die in that bright red state. He was convicted of murder and does not contest the conviction. But the state wants to use a mix of poisons to kill him and they won’t say what it is or what’s in it or where they got it. They’re determined to do this, that’s why the governor has her ugly picture in this morning’s paper. A couple of days ago, the state Supreme Court stayed Lockett’s execution until the chemical questions could be answered, but then Governor Fallin said they’re going go ahead and inject him anyway. Just looking at her, you can see you she means it.
My question is, why does she have to come out like that in her blue suit and her red lipstick with a little silver cross around her neck and say we have to kill Lockett and this other guy right now? Why can’t she just wait for the question about what’s in the chemicals to get straightened out?
Well, I don’t think it’s because she’s a mean, hateful bitch, although that is probably part of it. It’s because the people who put her in office believe things should always work in a certain way, and they want her to run things in accordance with the way they believe. Anything unpleasant or unfortunate or unsettling or even confusing or different (read: otherness) needs to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Crime needs to be harshly punished. And not just crime, but the effrontery required to commit the crime. It has to be squashed without mercy.
Governor Mary doesn’t want the courts to interfere with disposing of Clayton Lockett and closing out his case.
I see she’s wearing some nice little earrings in what appears to be the same silver as her cross. And she’s got some kind of button or patch on her blue jacket; I can’t make out what it is.** There are nice, healthy-looking green plants sprouting in front of her podium. I think that’s funny. It’s like the plants are supposed to be warm and friendly and indicative of life and growth and happiness and so on. But Governor Mary is talking in this photograph and her mouth is open. You can see the sharp edges of her teeth, and the darkness inside that open mouth looks scary—not warm and friendly at all.
Clayton Lockett is black, as already noted, and so is the other guy they’re planning to execute, Charles Warner. Everyone else involved in this story is white, except the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court. The fact that he’s black must represent some kind of progress, right?
It turns out the court, the state Supreme Court, is contradicting itself. Two days ago they put a hold on the executions. But now they say it’s fine to go ahead and inject that stuff, whatever it is. Lockett doesn’t need to know what’s in it or where it came from. Doesn’t even have the right to know, according to them.
Most of the OK State’s citizens were really pissed off when the court stayed the executions before. They started talking about impeaching the judges for not doing their duty (to execute Lockett and Warner). The judges got that message pronto.
I’m looking at Mary Fallin’s photo again. She’s got a little pig nose. Her nostrils really pop out at you in that picture, two black holes smack in the middle of her face. And that blond hair somehow makes her piggy nose stand out even more.
You know what the state Supreme Court said, after they caved on staying the executions? They said that Lockett’s request to know what drugs were going to be used to kill him was “frivolous and not grounded in the law”.
The particular dude, the justice, who said this went on to offer a bunch of analogies. He was one of the eight white justices, just for the record.
The justice said, “The plaintiffs have no more right to the information they requested than if they were being executed in the electric chair, they would have no right to know [who was] providing the electricity; if they were being hanged, they would have no right to know whether it be cotton or nylon rope; or if they were being executed by firing squad, they would have no right to know whether it be by Winchester or Remington ammunition. I hope that this case ends any thought of future journeys down this path that has led this court to this day.”
This frivolous path. This frivolous day.
Here’s the problem, though: other states have mixed and matched drugs to create their new death cocktail blends as well. And those executions were botched as a result—they lasted too long, they caused too much obvious pain. So it’s not unreasonable for Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner to wonder whether they’re going down that same path.
I think Governor Mary expects they are, judging by her photo.
* Theguardian.com. Fallin photo: Sue Ogrocki/AP.
** I checked later. Turns out it is the state seal.
4/28/14: Both men were convicted of pretty heinous crimes (Lockett of shooting a 19-year-old woman with a shotgun, then watching while she was buried alive; Warner of raping and killing an 11-month-old baby, though he claims he’s innocent), so my concern for them as individuals is somewhat deflated here. Plus, the state did wind up divulging the names of the drugs that will be used to kill these men tomorrow (at 6 PM and 8 PM). The source and composition/quality of the drugs remains unknown, however, and the issue of how executions are conducted (and whether they should be conducted at all) remains extremely important. I think most people would agree it’s likely there are people on death row somewhere who are innocent.
4/30/14: Things went very wrong during Lockett’s execution. You can read about it here.
This is what Governor Mary Fallin had to say:
“I have asked the department of corrections to conduct a full review of Oklahoma’s execution procedures to determine what happened, and why, during this evening’s execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett,” she said in a statement. “I have issued an executive order delaying the execution of Charles Frederick Warner for 14 days to allow for that review to be completed.”
Nice. She might have considered this “full review” at the same time the state’s Supreme Court originally stayed the executions, instead of sneering at them and proceeding apace.
As one of the inmates’ attorneys noted, “Clayton Lockett was tortured to death.” Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors capital punishment, said someone “was killed tonight by incompetence.”
So what’s next?
Well, it would be somewhat redemptive if the Oklahoma Supreme Court reinstated the stay on Charles Warner’s execution, without an artificial time limit attached (he is currently scheduled to die in 14 days). That probably will not happen, though.
It may help if people outside the state make their feelings known, especially by joining with groups opposed to the death penalty, such as the ACLU or Amnesty International.
The point is, if you’re bothered by botched executions (or executions in general), you need to do something to try and change things.
Oklahoma and its governor are just one aspect of a very ugly situation.