WHAT WE THINK
April 13, 2001 | Page 3
APRIL 19 is the sixth anniversary of the nightmare in Oklahoma City--the bombing of the federal building that killed 168 people. But when he marks the date, George W. Bush will have something else on his mind.
About a month later, Timothy McVeigh is scheduled to be executed for setting the bomb. And Bush couldn't be happier. He wants McVeigh's execution to serve a purpose.
For Bush, McVeigh is the ideal candidate for the first federal execution in 37 years--because he'll draw attention away from the real face of the death penalty. For every McVeigh, there are many more prisoners on death row who are there simply because they were too poor to afford a decent lawyer or because they are minorities victimized by racist cops and prosecutors.
The federal government's death row is worse than almost any state--fully 76 percent of prisoners are non-white. "The truth is we only kill the easy ones," said Bud Welch, whose 23-year-old daughter was killed in the bombing and who is opposed to McVeigh's execution. "We don't have the millionaires on death row.
We shouldn't let Bush get away with executing McVeigh--because this would only legitimize a cruel, unjust and broken system. More and more people seem to realize this.
Despite growing hype about McVeigh from the politicians, opposition to the death penalty has continued to spread. "The whole atmosphere on capital punishment has changed," said Scott Sundby, a law professor at Washington and Lee University. "Both legislatively and judicially, there's a pause, and we're starting to look more closely at what has happened."
The moratorium on executions in Illinois is now more than a year old--and shows no signs of being reversed. A series of recent court rulings have nearly stopped Virginia's executions machine, the second-fastest-in-the-nation after Texas. And last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case in which it will decide whether the execution of mentally retarded people is unconstitutional.
In another sign of the changing climate, activists in Maryland were able to push legislation for a moratorium from obscurity just a month ago to the brink of passage. It took a filibuster by racist Democrat--Sen. Walter Baker, who dismissed everyone on death row as "bums" and "killers," despite the clear evidence of racism and injustice in Maryland--to delay and perhaps smother passage of the bill.
A vote was expected as Socialist Worker went to press. If the moratorium is blocked, it will be a bitter disappointment for activists who worked so hard to win.
But we have to remember how far the struggle against the death penalty has come--in Maryland and around the nation. The pressure of activists has put death penalty supporters on the defensive. We need to keep up that pressure.