If the Republican majority in the General Assembly gets its way, not only will officials acting on behalf of the people of North Carolina be able to resume putting people to death again in the middle of the night at Central Prison, they will be able to hide information about how they are killing them.
That’s one of the provisions in the offensively named “Restoring Proper Justice Act” that is on its way to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory, that the state can keep secret the name of the company that manufactures the drugs used to carry out executions.
Another provision would exempt the Department of Public Safety from the public rulemaking process when developing what is commonly referred to as the “execution protocol,” or how we kill people. That would be developed in secret too.
Supporters of the bill defend the secrecy provision as a way to shield the company that makes the drugs from litigation and public protests, which makes a complete mockery of the public records laws. The new mantra appears to be that only information about state activities that doesn’t reflect badly on selected people or institutions should be released.
The bill also allows medical professionals other than doctors to monitor the execution process because doctors, who take an oath to do no harm, refuse to be there.
There’s a reason the death penalty supporters want more secrecy in how the state puts people to death. Gruesomely botched executions in other states have called into question the drugs used in the procedure and prompted more calls to take a longer look at what Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun famously called the machinery of death.
The legislation is part of the longstanding effort by current House and Senate leaders to resume executions as quickly as possible. Rep. Leo Daughtry complained to a House committee recently that some people have been on death row for 20 years.
That’s an especially bizarre comment to make in the wake of the exoneration last year of death row inmate Henry McCollum, who spent 30 years awaiting his execution for a rape and murder he did not commit before he was released along with his half-brother Leon Brown after DNA evidence found that another man committed the crime.
Surely Daughtry and his colleagues are glad they didn’t resume executions before McCollum’s exoneration.
Editorials around the state have uses words like macabre and bloodlust to describe the legislation to speed up executions and make them more secretive and it’s hard to argue with the sentiment.
The folks running the General Assembly for the last five years have passed several bills they claim would speed up executions including a repeal of the Racial Justice Act, a law enacted to provide another avenue to address the racial bias that infects the capital punishment system.
The obsession with the jumpstarting death penalty is a hard one to understand.
The public is increasingly uncomfortable with the state putting someone to death. An ABC News poll last year found that a majority of Americans favored life in prison without parole instead of the death penalty for first degree murder.
Then there are cases like McCollum’s, shocking reminders of the flaws in the system that determines who lives and who dies. The death penalty does not deter crime and it costs more than a system of life in prison without parole.
And it demeans us all for our government to intentionally take a human life in our name to show that taking a human life is wrong. That’s why many countries abolished capital punishment years ago and why the legislature in Nebraska abolished it earlier this year.
Executing people in the middle of the night in a secret process with secret drugs from secret companies has nothing do with “restoring proper justice.”
But we need more than just a veto from Gov. McCrory.
It’s time to shut down the machinery of death in North Carolina for good. The state should simply not be in the business of killing people.