Should we give the government the power of life and death?

I’ve been writing about capital punishment for about 20 years now, which is about 20 years too long. It’s easy enough to poke holes in the ideas that drive the practice itself; it’s expensive, it doesn’t deter crime, it hits the poor and people of color harder, the rest of the world abandoned the practice long ago, etc.

Likewise, when you’re writing about a death row exoneree who was actually innocent but was sentenced to die anyway, that’s an easy sell. Most people understand that it’s wrong to kill someone for a crime they didn’t commit (though some judges are on the fence about this; Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in 2009, “This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” That passage can be translated to: “It’s OK to kill innocent people, so long as the process looks fair.”).

Then, there are the real murder cases with the really guilty people and really horrific circumstances. When you examine those cases, high-minded policy arguments tend to dissolve, sympathy wanes and the reader is left thinking, “Well, maybe the death penalty isn’t so bad after all.” This, I suppose, is what keeps a few alt-weekly-reading liberals on the fence about the continued viability of American capital punishment.

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Liberate Michigan!

To those of you marching in “Liberate [your state]” gatherings in capitals all over the Midwest, my sympathies are with you. Especially those few who are out there because the government is willing to let the unemployed die on the... Read More ›

Our Courts Won’t Solve Homelessness

In my last column, I discussed the legal victory for the homeless in a case out of Boise, Idaho in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said that cities couldn’t charge people criminally for living on the streets. Cities... Read More ›


I’ve spent the last month planning the next year: daily checklists, weekly checklists, monthly checklists, a prioritized list of drop-dead-due dates, creative goals, lifetime goals and yet another checklist of resolutions that, like the items on every other list, accumulate... Read More ›