Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Dealing with Death

In a lot of ways, we're very blessed in Tennessee. Reading the execution alerts for January I saw that Texas has three executions scheduled this month alone! We in Tennessee have gotten spoiled. We may have 103 people awaiting execution, but we haven't had an execution since 2000. Unfortunately, that streak may come to an end soon, because Greg Thompson is scheduled to be killed on February 7th.

Thompson is a severely mentally ill man who has been on Tennessee's death row for 21 years. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, and bi-polar disorder. He experiences hallucinations, hears voices, and holds delusional beliefs such his being a Klingon or that he can survive electrocution because when he touches his TV he gets a shock. Yet the state has still deemed Thompson competent to be executed.

In the office, we've really been getting ourselves into gear to challenge the Thompson execution. Last night at the Nashville TCASK meeting we went over plans to oppose it here in Nashville. On Monday, I'll be traveling to Chattanooga to talk to as many people as possible about Greg's case and get them ready to fight. We're drafting sample letters to the editor and talking points for even more. We're making calls to partner organizations to see how they can be involved. We're planning actions and vigils and phone calls. We're asking people particularly to sign the online Greg Thompson clemency petition.

It's hard to imagine living in Texas, or another high-execution state) and dealing with this on a far more regular basis. The idea that our state is about to murder someone in our names is a revolting and shocking one. My hat is off to those incredible abolitionists who can have the strength to do this month after month.

Randy and I were discussing how to we face the execution. We both admit that the outlook is grim, although we hold out hope that we can stop this horrible thing from happening. But how do you deal with the methodical preparation to kill someone? One approach is to assume that it is going to happen. This allows people to steel themselves against it and be prepared. It probably helps prevent burnout and at least a little of the huge emotional crash that could follow an execution. But it can also lead to despondency and depression even before the execution. So we can remain optimistic and believe that something will change, that there will be a stay, a last minute appeal, that the Governor will find mercy and compassion in his heart. But that leaves us open to crashing if this does happen.

I find myself oscillating between the two, and I'm not sure which I like better. I know that we are doing everything that we can, but I fear that this won't be enough. And does that make us somehow personally culpable? Because if it happens, we will always wonder, could we have done more? Was there an argument that we could have made that would have swayed more people? If I'd made just a few more phone calls to speeches, would things have turned out differently?

Of course, on some level, we're all culpable, as residents of a state that executes people. It is our government and our representatives that allow the policy to continue, but individuals can only do so much. In the end, I suppose we'll brace for the worst but hope for the best. We'll do all that we can and hope that that is enough to let us sleep at night. I don't know that it will, but if we don't have hope, we have nothing.
Comments :
As we all enjoy the euphoria from the stay in Greg Thompson's case and reflect on the emotional rollercoaster as we face an execution, we should think about how much worse that rollercoaster ride is for the attorneys. If we worry about whether our actions or inertia will result in an execution, if we swing between optimism and despair, if we have trouble sleeping at night because of the immensity of it all, think how much worse it is for those attorneys who hold their client's fate in their hands. But in addition to giving thanks for attorneys who have the courage, intellect, and stamina to handle such cases, we abolitionists also need to redouble our efforts to change the law in order to prevent any executions and to aid these unheralded victims of the death penalty machinery.
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