Archive for February, 2013

Both countries have great wealth and staggering inequality.  Both countries have political systems plagued by institutionalized, legal corruption.  South Africa’s government has been controlled by the Black majority for nearly twenty years since the official downfall of apartheid.  The USA, too, has a Black president.  But both countries retain the poison of raSouth Church 2-18-13 013cism in their political and economic circulatory systems.  Can either really be called a “democracy?”

That was the question raised by Daniel Weeks in a talk last night at South Congregational Church in Concord.  Weeks, a former President of Americans for Campaign Reform, has been living in South Africa, where he has found disturbing parallels with the flaws of his native land.  

Dan Weeks talks with local residents.

Weeks knows that as a white foreigner it’s not his job to lead reform movements in his wife’s country.  But he is learning from and lifting up the examples of South Africans, like members of the Treatment Action Campaign, who are protesting corruption and demanding health care for people with HIV/AIDS.

South Africa’s problems are perhaps more extreme than those we see here.  Black majority rule – in the political system – has not greatly altered the economic realities for most Black South Africans, Weeks said.  Fifty percent of the country’s population lives on less than $2 a day, and 25% live on less than a dollar.  While all of the poorest South Africans are Black, not all Black South Africans are poor, he reported.  A small number have been welcomed into the nation’s economic elite in a country he said is the most unequal on earth.

The USA, on the other hand, is the most unequal among “developed” nations.  With poor Americans much less likely to vote, contribute to candidates, or otherwise get involved in the political process, inequality at this level means we can’t have a functioning democracy, Weeks said.  Ten individuals, he said, donate as much to political campaigns as the poorest 99.9% of Americans.  And citing the analysis of Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, Weeks noted that 10% of Black Americans can’t even vote and are barred from access to an array of federal benefits, due to criminal convictions.

Moreover, the role that private funds play in elections systems is a form of institutionalized corruption that is entirely legal in both countries.

Weeks is now traveling the USA to develop further insights into the realities of poverty and the intersection of economic and political inequality.  He suggests a need for “radical integrity,” perhaps modeled on Doris “Granny D” Haddock, the woman who inspired his activism when he encountered her during his high school years.   

Structural racism is hard to dislodge, he said.  I hope he’ll return to Concord soon with more insights into how we can meet this challenge.   


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New Hampshire hasn’t executed anyone since 1939, but since Michael Addison was sentenced to death for the 2006 murder of Michael Briggs, there’s been a man on death row at the state prison in Concord.  Except “we don’t really have a death row,” William Wrenn, New Hampshire’s Commissioner of Corrections said this afternoon at a death penalty forum held at the UNH School of Law in Concord.  2-13-13 009

Neither does the state have a death chamber or anyone with experience conducting executions, Wrenn said.

Several years ago the Department of Corrections solicited a design for an execution chamber and found out it would cost about $1.8 Million to build one.  So Wrenn doesn’t think he’d ever get authority to construct such a facility.  Instead, the state would convert a gymnasium or some other space to be a temporary execution facility, at least if it could be done without creating a problem for the rest of the prison.  

Wrenn was joined on the panel by former Phil McLaughlin, who supported the death penalty during his term as Attorney General but who now supports its repeal.  Other speakers were Chris Keating of the NH Judicial Council and Tina Nadeau, Chief Justice of the NH Superior Court. 

A second panel included Representative Renny Cushing, who also heads a national anti-death penalty group made up of relatives of homicide victims; Tim Anderson, who served as a jury member on a capital murder case in Connecticut and later became a repeal advocate; and David Rothstein, Deputy Chief Appellate Defender, who also heads up Michael Addison’s legal appeal.

The procedures to be used for an execution are spelled out in RSA 630:5, which says:

“The punishment of death shall be inflicted by continuous, intravenous administration of a lethal quantity of an ultrashort-acting barbiturate in combination with a chemical paralytic agent until death is pronounced by a licensed physician according to accepted standards of medical practice.”

It’s the Commissioner’s job to determine what mix of chemicals would be used to perform the killing, though the law also states that “if for any reason the commissioner finds it to be impractical to carry out the punishment of death by administration of the required lethal substance or substances, the sentence of death may be carried out by hanging.”

The law also gives the Commissioner the authority to determine who will perform the execution and spells out that “the person administering the injection need not be a physician, registered nurse, or licensed practical nurse, licensed or registered under the laws of this or any other state.”  No prescription for the drugs would be required. 

If he can’t find anyone in New Hampshire qualified – or willing – to do the job, he said, there are people in other states who could be hired.  “Their names and identifiers are kept very confidential,” he said.

Chris Keating headed the Public Defender program during the time of the Addison trial.  He pointed out that the agency conducts about 27,000 cases a year for a budget of about $18 Million.  The Addison case alone has cost the agency about $3 Million so far, he said.  And the tab is still running with an appeal process only just getting underway.  Fiscal realities certainly could figure in legislative judgment about whether the state should repeal the death penalty before another case gets launched.

Tim Anderson had to be “death qualified” in order to be admitted onto the jury for a 2-13-13 027 capital murder case following a horrific home invasion/murder in Connecticut.  In other words, he had to say he was willing to vote for execution if he felt the facts of the case warranted it.  Despite reservations, he ultimately joined the other jurors in a decision to hand out a death sentence in the case.  Now he believes the death penalty is “barbaric: and “corrosive.” 

“What I did was morally and ethically wrong,” Anderson said.  He hopes to speak in other death penalty states to “make sure that no juror has to do what I did.”

New Hampshire’s legislature will take up death penalty repeal next year, and Rep. Cushing is optimistic it will pass.  But meanwhile, William Wrenn  is working with the Attorney General’s office to determine the protocols the state would follow as the Addison case proceeds and what he would have to do “if and when I’m called upon to carry out the sentence.”  Given the length of the appeals process, he won’t be the Commissioner any more by then. 

The forum was put on by Law Students for Human Rights, the Diversity Action Coalition, and the UNH Law School chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

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