After the Inhumane Execution of Clayton Lockett, Perhaps, Prison Reform Should Become the Next Great Civil Rights Movement of Our Generation

After the Inhumane Execution of Clayton Lockett, Perhaps, Prison Reform Should Become the Next Great Civil Rights Movement of Our Generation

Last night, Clayton Lockett was tied down to a gurney in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. He sat behind a glass window, accompanied by doctors, lying in front of an audience of media, court magistrates, men and women associated with his correctional facility, and families related to his case. At 6:23 p.m., he was administered the first of three drugs that would complete his lethal injection.

Then, via The Associated Press:

About three minutes later, though, Lockett began breathing heavily, writhing on the gurney, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow. After about three minutes, a doctor lifted the sheet that was covering Lockett to examine the injection site.

What the doctor found was described as a “blown vein.” Once Lockett began writhing uncontrollably, a curtain was dropped. At 7:06, more than 40 minutes after his execution began, Lockett died of a heart attack.

So now we are left with a question: a 38-year-old convicted of shooting a young girl with a sawed off shotgun, then watching her be buried alive, dies in agony and pain (when he was meant to be killed peacefully, I suppose). How do we respond?

Here is how we should respond: Let’s take this opportunity to look deeper into our prison system. Executions, especially tortuous ones that are dehumanized with the word “botched,” get a lot of warranted attention; but the discussion we’re left having about capital punishment avoids a more pervasive and correctable issue. We should respond by making prison reform the next great civil rights movement of our generation, even while grappling with the persistently formidable issues of racial equality and gay rights.

Let’s start with the issue at hand: Clayton Lockett’s story is about how the ultimate responsibility of taking a human life lies, ironically, in the potency of a drug.

There’s an attractive drama and controversy in writing a story about the ethics of killing a convicted killer. There’s certainly room to move within the margin of being strictly anti-death penalty by asking what makes a society evolved. What can we say about the state of American Christianity that there seems to be a correlation between a given state’s percentage of Christians and that state’s number of enacted death sentences? It’s a provocative question, rife with debate along lines where they really shouldn’t be drawn. It’s provocative, but distracts from the main issue.

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Source: Black Voices | Ari Weitzman — Graduate student, Rutgers

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