Thursday, February 21, 2019

NH Death Penalty Optics

Michael George Haddad

The last time the State of New Hampshire executed anyone was in 1939. For the last 20 years, there has been a bill every biennium to repeal the death penalty. In 2000, a repeal bill passed both houses and was vetoed by Governor Jeanne Shaheen. 

In 2019, there is an impressive bipartisan coalition supporting HB 455, a bill that would change the death penalty in NH to life without parole. It seems likely that the bill will pass in both the House and Senate. Governor Sununu has said that he will veto it. There could well be, for the first time in 20 years, enough support for repeal to override the governor’s veto.

I’ve written about the death penalty several times over the years. We know it is expensive – more expensive than life in prison. We know it is not a deterrent. We know that people of color are more likely to be sent to death row. We know that a great many people have been wrongly convicted, spent years on death row, and then exonerated. We also know that at least one innocent person has been wrongly murdered by the state, in the name of “justice.” Above all, we know…well, not all of we, but most of we know that the death penalty is not about justice. It is about vengeance.

As the old saying goes, we kill people to show them that killing is wrong. The state should not be in the business of killing its citizens.

A big public hearing resulted in hours of testimony this week. There was testimony from murder victim’s family members. There was testimony from people who were wrongly convicted and sent to death row.  There was also testimony from former US Senator Kelly Ayotte, who breezed in to emphasize how important it is that we kill Michael Addison, the only person on death row in NH. Ayotte the NH Attorney General vigorously pursued the death penalty case against Addison, and used it as a springboard to a single term in the Senate. 

Michael Addison was charged with killing Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006. In 2006, a millionaire named John Brooks was convicted of capital murder for his role in hiring people to kill his former handyman, whom he believed had stolen from him. In New Hampshire, contract killing is a capital offense.  John Brooks was given two life sentences without parole. In 1997, Gordon E. Perry killed police officer Jeremy Charron in Epsom, NH. After pleading guilty to capital murder, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. 

When repeal advocates talk about how the death penalty isn’t equally applied, this is exactly what they mean. Gordon E. Perry is white. John Brooks is rich and white. Michael Addison is black. John Brooks was convicted the same year as Addison, in the same state. Kelly Ayotte did not zealously pursue his case. Gordon Perry and Michael Addison both killed police officers. Only one is on death row. 

Our Governor has said that he will veto a repeal because he “stands with law enforcement.” Our governor stands with law enforcement when it’s convenient. Sununu’s first legislative priority after being elected to his first term was to eliminate concealed carry licenses for firearms. Law enforcement vigorously opposed that bill. Sununu didn’t listen to them, never mind stand with them. Governor Sununu is a Trump acolyte, and we know that Trump loves the death penalty. Even after the five young black men known as the Central Park Five were exonerated after falsely being convicted of the rape, assault, and attempted murder of jogger Trisha Mieli, Donald Trump continued to call for their executions.

Civilized countries don’t engage in execution. The United States is increasingly uncivilized, particularly in the area of race and religion. We don’t hear any discussion of how, exactly, the state will kill Michael Addison. The methods sanctioned by our state are hanging and lethal injection. Lethal injection drugs are no longer available. The countries that manufacture them don’t sell them to us any more, because they don’t believe in the death penalty. Will New Hampshire purchase other, questionable drugs? Or will New Hampshire rebuild the gallows that was dismantled at the state prison in 1994?

We should, perhaps, take a moment to consider this.  New Hampshire hasn’t conducted an execution since 1939. Will we bring the death penalty out of mothballs to kill a black man? Would we hang him? Tiny, white, New Hampshire proudly clings to the first in the nation presidential primary, despite rumblings from other states that we’re tiny, white, and clueless about the rest of the country. If the moral arguments against the death penalty don’t sway folks, perhaps the very real potential of losing that exalted primary status will. 

Published as an op-ed in the February 22, 2019 issue of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Trickle Down Hate

The United States has always had a problem with racism. We’ve never been willing to tackle it head on, preferring to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that passing a law or two and paying annual homage to Dr. Martin Luther King is enough to take care of it.

Then along came Obama. In 2004, after three terms in the Illinois Senate, Obama ran for US Senate. He delivered a well received speech to the Democratic National Convention that same year.  In the interest of full disclosure, I was in Chicago on business that year, and heard him speak at a dinner I attended. He gave a fine speech – it was easy to see why there was so much buzz around him.

That was the year that birtherism was born. It’s been traced back to perennial candidate (and something of a vexatious litigant) Andy Martin, who has run for office in a number of states, including New Hampshire. Martin began the rumors about Obama – that he wasn’t born in the US, that he was a Muslim, and so on. Those rumors persisted over the years, but had nearly died down when along came Donald Trump who demanded to see Obama’s “long form” birth certificate in 2011, and birtherism kicked into high gear.

President Obama took it all in stride. He even made jokes about it. (He didn’t sit around in his underpants tweeting in a vituperative frenzy.) The Trump birtherism spread and deepened, and suddenly it was okay to be openly racist in public again, in a way that had been unacceptable since the sixties. The Trump administration has continually exacerbated that open racism.

We’ve seen violence against people of color, violence and bullying against children – including children right here in New Hampshire. The wall has served as fuel for a national tiki torch sized outpouring of racist outrage. Every day, Trump sends out malevolent rage tweets about caravans, invasions, and a crisis at the border. The reports from the border don’t bear any of this out. There is no crisis. Trump spent last weekend playing golf, which illustrates how serious this crisis is.

Given the rise in racist rhetoric, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see it mirrored in the NH legislature. This year there are two anti-immigrant bills, one in the House and one in the Senate. House bill 232 requires state and local governments to comply with federal detainer requests and prohibits state and local government entities from adopting policies that prohibit, restrict, or discourage the enforcement of federal immigration law. (Republicans love local control….except that they really don’t.) This is an unpleasant bit of work, called the “anti-sanctuary act,” and sponsored by a variety of tea partiers and Free Staters.

HB 232 pales in comparison to Senate bill 317, which bills itself as “an act prohibiting sanctuary locations in New Hampshire.” From the statement of intent…”is necessary to protect our country from foreign and domestic terrorism, diminished prosperity caused by artificially low wages paid to those present in the United States in violation of our immigration laws, a disregard of the rule of law, the presence of foreign criminals, foreign persons participating in our elections, and strained local and state finances caused by a disproportionate participation of foreign welfare recipients…”

This is a load of codswallop. Domestic terrorism in this country is perpetuated by angry white men. Foreign terrorists aren’t behind mass shootings. The pinkos at the CATO institute found in 2018 that you were more likely to die from an animal attack than be killed by a foreign terrorist. There are no foreign persons participating in NH elections. That is a nasty bit of xenophobia aimed at perpetuating the GOP myth of voter fraud. The Republicans need to keep that myth alive, because it’s how they’ll continue to chip away at voting rights. As for foreign welfare recipients? More bunk. Undocumented people don’t have the documents needed to receive public assistance.

New Hampshire Republicans eliminated the state minimum wage, and have resisted every attempt to put one into place. Yet here they are, mouthing concerns about artificially low wages? These hypocrites have turned their backs on the plight of low wage workers for decades. 

Please read SB 317, and take notice of the sponsors. There is only one from Carroll County, State Senator Jeb Bradley. Jeb Bradley has long enjoyed an undeserved reputation as a moderate. These days, he’s a political windsock, flapping in the racist breeze generated by what the Republican Party has become in the era of Trump. Wealthy old white men like Senator Jeb don’t actually march with tiki torches. They write the inflammatory rhetoric that ratchets up the kind of anger that fuels the mob mentality and leads to violence.

No matter how you feel about the wall, you should be ashamed that our state senator put his name on this dishonest and shockingly xenophobic piece of legislation.

Published as an op-ed in the February 8, 2019 edition of the Conway Daily Sun Newspaper