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What'n hell is Tom Hackbarth thinking...?

28-Jan-2001

I'm sad to say Minnesoata State Representative Tom Hackbarth (GOP) has just introduced legislation (Bill HF0329) to bring back the death penalty in this state.

This is a copy of the letter I have sent him:

January 29, 2001

Tom Hackbarth
577 State Office Building
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55155

Dear Tom Hackbarth,

I am dismayed at your efforts to bring the death penalty back to Minnesota.  
I do not think that such legislation is appropriate to or consistent with the 
progressive and enlightened political tradition in this state.

I understand the emotional attraction of the death penalty: it's simplicity, 
finality and message of moral authority.  But it is just these values that 
provide the strongest arguments against such a policy.

The apparent simplicity of the death penalty is an illusion.  It is 
well-established that the legal machinations associated with applying the 
death penalty are horrifically expensive, greater even than the cost of lifetime 
incarceration.  In my opinion the only way to reduce this cost  would be to 
substantially reduce the convicteds' rights of appeal, to gut the very checks 
on our system that are our only chance to insure we get this most final of 
judgments right.

It is also well-established that the death penalty is not applied fairly with 
regard to race or class of the accused.  Bad enough that so much of our system 
can be accused of this; shall we also take life so capriciously?

The finality of the death penalty is also, in my opinion, a strong argument 
against it being an accepted legal tool.  If ever one has been suspicious of 
the powers of an over-reaching state, surely one can imagine that governments 
are too easily corrupted to be entrusted with the power to kill their own 
citizens.  If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then 
perhaps the power of life and death is a bit much for any human organization, 
whatever its honorable intentions.

Finally, much is made of the powerful message imposition of the death penalty 
sends (probably because every educated person knows that no study has ever 
demonstrated any actual deterrent effect of the "ultimate punishment.")  
Let's examine that message:

	* Important decisions shall be based upon emotional impulses without 
	regard to dispassionate considerations (since a desire for revenge 
	seems to be the principle basis for an expensive penalty which has 
	no deterrent effect)

	* Some lives are more valuable than others (since on the one hand 
	the state seems to say that taking a life is the ultimate crime yet 
	on the other hand it takes lives with impunity)

	* Violence is the ultimate effective tool for wielding power and 
	punishing the weak (since the state, with all its resources, can't 
	manage to think of anything more appropriate than killing certain 
	people.)

Yes, I do believe the death penalty sends a powerful moral message: Do what 
I say, not what I do.

The death penalty is a mistake for Minnesota, a mistake for this country, a 
mistake for people who  would call themselves civilized.  Oppositon to the 
death penalty is not about protecting criminals, it is about protecting and 
preserving the very foundation of values upon which state power and its moral 
authority rest.  Its about sparing the citizens the taint of killing done 
in their names.  It is about refusing to become what one opposes just because 
the fight is difficult.  I implore you to reconsider your support and 
sponsorship of this legislation.

Respectfully,
Alicia Knapp
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