THROUGH THE FIRE: Cruel Torture in the Mind and of the Body

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By TRISHA MURAKAWA
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on December 2, 2010.)

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When I was growing up, I remember my dad incorporating the phrase “an eye for an eye” when my brother and I would fight to imply that we shouldn’t hit each other. I never equated that phrase to the death penalty.

Since I didn’t read the paper or watch the news as a child, I never knew our state was executing criminals until 1972, and I didn’t remember the death penalty as a significant issue in 1976 when it was reinstated by the state Supreme Court.

The only reason I ever thought about the death penalty was when it came up as a topic during my first two jobs out of college working for state legislators. One of them supported the death penalty; the other didn’t.

I do, however, remember April 1992, when the people of California executed the first person since the reinstatement.

I remember because it occurred right around Easter. I wonder even now about the reasons for the timing and the coincidence that the first execution since reinstatement occurred so close to, arguably, the most holy and fundamental holiday in the Christian religion given that it observes (but does not celebrate) Christ’s execution by crucifixion.

I haven’t spoken or written about the death penalty in several years, but about a month ago, I was asked to help a friend’s daughter find resources for her essay about the topic of capital punishment so she could formulate and justify her opinion.

I directed her to the ACLU and Death Penalty Focus, but I too have been thinking about the death penalty over the last five years because I saw the exhibit “Bodies in Motion” during a trip to San Francisco.

The exhibit was fabulously designed and presented. It showed great detail of the body and all its organs and parts, muscles, bones — everything. But the other fascinating thing about the exhibit aside from the portrayal of the body was how obvious that the people used in the exhibit are Asian – Chinese, and mostly, if not all, as I recall, male. And all appear 30- to 40-ish at most.

While the exhibit was grippingly interesting in terms of seeing how the body looks, how the muscles extend in various positions in motion, how each part looks sliced like sausage from head to toe, the more compelling issue for me is who the people were who donated their bodies because they appeared so young as if they each had so much more life to live. Yet there they were — skinless, hairless, filled with acrylic or something exposing their veins, arteries, muscles and bones, in that exhibit.

But all that explanation is just a digression from the main topic of execution.

In late September, we, the people of California, were supposed to execute a man who I will not name in this piece. The reason we did not execute him is because the people’s supply of a key medication, sodium thiopental, an anesthetic required as part of the lethal injection method of execution, expired just a few days before the scheduled death.

The only American company that manufactures this anesthetic is unable to make more until they obtain a needed key ingredient. A company spokesman said the company expects to put their medication back on the market in early 2011 while also expressing their “displeasure” to California officials that their medication, intended to save lives, is used in this method of execution.

Interestingly, however, none of this would have been an issue just a few days before the scheduled execution.

It turns out that we, the people of California, indeed had the required amount necessary for this execution (the required amount is based on weight like any other medication dosages) but it seems that we somehow allowed the supply to expire. As a result, we had no choice but to extend the life of this prisoner.

It seems the governor could issue an executive order and institute an alternative method of execution although this would also be challenged in court, but I would bet this would be resolved sooner than the time it would take to obtain enough sodium thiopental needed to anesthetize the death row inmate. The governor could have recommended death by lethal gas, another approved method in our state, but he didn’t.

I wonder if we, the people of California, purposely allowed this medicine to expire to save this prisoner’s life in some way because we can no longer stomach the thought of execution.

Currently, 35 states, the U.S. military and the federal government all include the death penalty as a form of punishment. But of the thousands of prisoners on death row, collectively, we the people, have killed 1,233 inmates since 1976. This fact begs the question of how the death penalty serves as a deterrent to violent crime.

If we, the people, really want executions to be a deterrent, then executions should be made public.

Perhaps we should reconsider holding public executions in large stadiums. Can you see a row of condemned inmates lined up and paraded at the Coliseum or Dodger Stadium?

Spectators could witness various forms of execution at different stations placed on the field. The stations could be 1) firing range; 2) hanging; 3) beheading by guillotine; 4) lethal injection; 5) electrocution; and 6) gas chamber. One station could be experimental using older forms of execution like stoning, sawing, roasting, burning at the stake, impaling or newer technologies like necklacing as has been done by rebel terrorists on other continents.

For spectators unable to attend executions in person, they could witness by closed circuit television.

Regardless of method, all seem torturous physically and mentally. They each seem unnecessarily cruel.

While I can never condone murder, rape, molestation or any other form of violent crime, I don’t believe that killing a guilty person benefits society.

Instead, these people should be forced to participate in product testing. This way, the need to select products based on whether or not they were tested on animals will become irrelevant. These prisoners could be used for these types of tests—shampoo can be dropped in their eyes instead of a rabbit’s to determine any potentially harmful effects. You understand what I’m suggesting here.

Product testing would be much more beneficial to society and we, the people, would no longer have dragged out legal battles about the constitutional violations of the accused’s rights and consumers would know whether or not the products we buy are truly safe.

Yes, this is absurd. But so is the death penalty. It is not expedient nor efficient as a form of punishment. And it’s clearly not a deterrent to violent crime. It’s extremely expensive to enforce and defend and it’s mentally torturous and inhumane.

We, the people, can no longer tolerate execution as a form of punishment and we must seek better means and address the real reasons for why such crimes occur.

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Trisha Murakawa is a strategic communications and public affairs consultant based in Redondo Beach. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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