No death penalty, ever



Our friend from the Iowa Interfaith Alliance was nervous last week about a proposal to reinstate the death penalty in Iowa for the first time in a half-century. It made us nervous, until we heard that members of the House really aren’t talking about it. But the Interfaith Alliance says that it needs to pick up a few votes in the Senate to make certain this barbaric practice does not return to Iowa.

We have had the opportunity to read a new book called Solitary by Albert Woodfox. Anyone who believes in capital punishment should read it. Woodfox landed in prison as a teen after a juvenile life on the hustle in New Orleans. In the notorious Angola prison, he was framed for the murder of a prison guard despite physical evidence that was ignored and eyewitness testimony that was suppressed. Because he insisted that the prison system was cruel and inhumane, and because he insisted that the criminal justice system is racist, Woodfox was kept in solitary confinement, 23 hours a day in a rat-infested cell, for 40 years for a murder he didn’t commit. By any account, Angola was cruel and inhumane, and there is little doubt that Louisiana’s criminal justice and law enforcement regimes were set up to maintain a Jim Crow order.

Iowa incarcerates a far higher number of blacks than whites. So does Minnesota. So does nearly every state. There are far more people of color on death row than whites, and it is not because people of color are more criminally prone, and certainly not more prone than anyone else of capital offenses. Recently enacted prison reform acknowledged as much. Then how can the death penalty be fairly applied, if we have not come to terms with the fact that the justice system sometimes — and in some places, often — produces different results for people of different colors?

That is not to say that any judge or lawyer is racist, but the facts are the facts. Law enforcement authorities tell us that minorities do not commit crimes at any higher rates than whites. Yet our death rows are predominantly black.

Albert Woodfox could have been one of them.

So could the death row inmates found to be innocent by Northwestern University journalism students, and other projects, using witness reports and DNA evidence. Albert Woodfox could have been one of them. He is reason enough that the death penalty should be abolished across the nation.

If you believe in our Constitution, capital punishment and solitary confinement are cruel and inhumane.

If you are pro-life, you are against the death penalty.

If you are realistic, you know that innocent people like Albert Woodfox do get railroaded. How can we have that on our conscience?

If you think the threat of capital punishment will keep that school shooter from shooting, think again. There is no evidence that capital punishment prevents crime. If so, there would be no one on Texas’s death row.

If you want revenge, move to Iran or Saudi Arabia. Revenge is not a part of our constitutional culture. Justice is.

Iowa has a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole for capital offenses like murder. We are protected. We don’t need to kill somebody to prevent murder.

We should consider the story of Albert Woodfox. How can you call for the death penalty when you know an innocent man could be in the gallows? Is that a risk a civilized society can take?

Not here, not now. Not ever again.

Reaching out to rural

The DC media are obsessing over Beto and Biden this week. You would think they are the two in the race. But there are about 18 other Democratic candidates for president who are pretty good. A half-dozen or so will be at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake on March 30 for a Heartland Forum for candidates sponsored by the Iowa Farmers Union, The Storm Lake Times, Huffington Post and Open Markets Action Fund. O’Rourke and Biden won’t be there, unfortunately. Julian Castro, John Delaney, Amy Klobuchar, Tim Ryan and Elizabeth Warren are coming. We believe that Bernie Sanders also will attend, but are not certain. Steve Bullock sent his regrets because he is still in his legislative session. We understand the same is true of Jay Inslee.

We know out of the gate who is most eager to speak to Rural America. This might be the only forum on rural issues of the 2020 cycle. Former US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has been the loudest voice urging Democrats to reconnect with rural routes, will introduce the guests. Some candidates preferred fundraisers on the coasts to meeting farmers stressed by losing money several years in a row. Some are going out of their way to get to Storm Lake to be seen and heard. We appreciate them.