Jun 21, 2004
The State of Maryland took its place in the drive for wider use of capital punishment. After executing no one for six years, the State on June 17 put to death three-time murderer Steven Oken.
Oken had already been given two life sentences, one in Maine and one in Maryland. But Steven Oken made a so-called "poster boy" for those advocating the death penalty – that is, those trying to drag society backward to the days of clan feuds and blood revenge.
The death penalty has always been applied unfairly, the poor dying, the well-off escaping. A black man who kills a white person is 20 times more likely to die than a white man who kills a black person.
When DNA testing began to reveal case after case of those on death row who have been wrongly accused and wrongly convicted, the public disapproval of executions reached even the most insulated of politicians. Governors of Illinois and Maryland, among others, declared moratoriums on legal executions.
The advocates of capital punishment found in Steven Oken a case that seemed to overcome several of the most common objections. Oken, a white man, while using cocaine, illegal prescription drugs and alcohol, sexually assaulted and murdered three women in a particularly brutal way. There was no question of faulty evidence. There was no question of racial prejudice or social injustice. This killer could be put to death in a way calculated to short-circuit any major public reaction. His execution could then serve to open the way, to prepare "public opinion" for future executions.
This calculation was carried out on June l7.
One study after another has shown that capital punishment does nothing to deter crime. And it is clear that, "poster boys" notwithstanding, the criminal justice system is deeply racist, and deeply a matter of social class. But, most to the point: State executions are as barbaric as any other murder – even more so, as the executions are always cold, deliberate, consciously calculated.
Those who want to move society forward will continue to oppose capital punishment.