Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Convenience of Acknowledging Sexism

Use your power to stop the execution of Kelly Gissendaner by insisting that her sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole. She is a woman who has been profoundly transformed while in prison. Kelly is a mother, a theologian, and a pastoral figure to many. Do not let this travesty of justice happen on your watch. Do not squander the opportunity to extend mercy.
A very dear friend of mine linked to Kelly’s petition on her Facebook page. I’m mostly opposed to the death penalty. I believe in the value of forgiveness and grace. I couldn’t figure out why this summary, this "travesty of justice," bothered me at first.

Protests and petitions about the death penalty and its horrors are nothing new. The Innocence Project and its siblings are arguably some of the most admirable movements happening in America right now. So, at first, the petition for Kelly Gissendaner might not seem all that unusual… yet… it is.

It’s unusual because no one is questioning her guilt. She’s guilty. Totally. She helped to plot the murder of her husband. She and her lover, Greg Owen, murdered. For love. Or something.

Yet at present there is a petition with more than 87,000 signatures because Kelly turned her life around. She found God, and she’s important to a lot of people, and her children don’t want to lose both of their parents for something awful that happened almost 20 years ago.

And oh yeah, mostly because Kelly Gissendaner is a woman.

We simply don’t like killing women. Killing men doesn't much phase us. We're numb to it. That Execute Men ship sailed long ago. Since 1976, only 15 women have been executed in the United States. In that same time, 1,414 men have been executed. That means barely more than 1 out of every 100 people executed in premeditated fashion by the government in this country have been female.

How many times can you recall 87,000-plus signatures on a single petition for a man who has admitted responsibility for a crime worthy of the death penalty?

Surely, over the years, there have been men like Kelly. Men who did horrific stuff, sat in jail for years awaiting their fate, yet redeemed themselves on some level in the eyes of God if not humankind. But we don’t garner 87,000 signatures for them. Not unless we believe they didn’t do it. Like in Serial, where we can convince ourselves that we’re lobbying for a (maybe, fingers crossed) wrongfully-convicted innocent. Some will defend men they believe are innocent. But the guilty but repentant ones? Ha.

No sane person would dare argue that women are less violent, less horrible. As genders and crime go, women are way way better human beings than men. They just are. And it’s not sexist to say that, because there’s not a statistic on the planet that would refute it. About the only place where we’re equally pathetic, criminally speaking, is in shoplifting. Beyond that, men basically own the criminal landscape. Because we suck.

But… how many male Kelly Gissendaners are there out there right now? How many have there been since 1976? Statistically speaking, surely there are at least 30-40 men on death row who have repented. Who do good deeds. Who are sincerely remorseful… yet where are their defenders and protectors?

If Justice is indeed blind, why does she seem to pity one gender so much more than the other? Isn’t this sexism? Isn’t it because we have always been comfortable believing men deserve awful consequences, while women deserve a second chance? Aren’t we comfortable believing women simply can’t be Evil in quite the same awful despicable way that men are Evil?

Kelly Geissendaner would be the 16th woman formally executed by our government. That’s 16 too many, to be sure. But how much of anyone’s sympathy and effort has she earned in comparison to the more than 1,400 men who have befallen the same fate, the unknown hundreds who turned their lives around?

If she was a man, she’d be dead already, and few if any beyond friends and loved ones would have batted an eye. Is that Justice? Is that the American Way? Dunno, but it is the Truth.


G. B. Miller said...

Karla Fay Tucker.

Received petitions and pleas for clemency from people like the Pope for participating in 4 pick-axe murders. Same kind of thing: turned her life around, model prisoner, etc. etc.

The problem with the anti-death penalty movement is the same problem that the pro-aborting movement has: no shades of gray.

If a person chooses to die after readily admitting to guilt, then they should be allowed to do so. Michael Ross is one such example. Her in CT, back in 2005, he decided to forgo all appeals and accept his punishment. The backlash amongst anti-death penalty opponents was instantaneous. Even the US District Judge for CT berated & harassed Ross's lawyer over it.

The problem with the anti-death penalty crowd is that when they finally get their way and abolish it, they manage to screw it up. The guv'nor of CT got it repealed, but has the caveat that the people currently on death row would still be eligible for it. Guess what? The CT Supreme Court ruled otherwise. So now the legislature has to fix a flawed abolition of the death penalty.

Tockstar said...

You are missing a major, major point in this case, which is that the MAN who actually pulled the trigger did not get the death penalty.

Billy said...

Tockstar - I don't think that's a major point at all. The world is full of scenarios where one person masterminds or plots another person's death, and a third person is brought into the mix to pull the trigger, unsheath the knife, whatever. One need only write the word "mafia" to know this to be a common theme. Or, if you prefer movies, try "Strangers on a Train" or "Body Heat." But in most of these cases, we're very comfortable recognizing that the mastermind is more culpable, and guiltier, than the actual killer. Unfortunately it can be extremely difficult for our system of justice to work out these details. In the case of this woman, in my opinion, the justice served was no less or more fair or appropriate than the death sentence that has taken hundreds upon hundreds of men who turned their lives around after being condemned to death.

Tockstar said...

My interpretation of the petition is the "she turned her life around" argument was tangential to the fact that she never should have been sentenced to death in the first place. The hit man in this case was the very man she was canoodling with, so the fact that she was somehow more culpable than him implicates the uneven application of the death penalty.

Tockstar said...

Not to mention the fact that every time someone is put to death in this country, there is a jailhouse vigil outside.