By Christian Kirk March 7, 2016
The Republican led Mississippi House wants to return to firing squads as a means of execution. The inhumane execution method is now being pushed as an alternative to lethal injection “in cases where drugs are unavailable or too expensive.”
The House amended Senate Bill 2237 Friday, which dealt with making the execution process secret, passing it 80-39 and sending it back to the Senate for more work.
Attorney General Jim Hood asked lawmakers earlier this year to approve alternate execution methods including the firing squad, electrocution and the use of nitrogen gas. Those measures had not, until Friday, passed either chamber.
Rep. Robert Foster, R-Hernando, said afterward that the firing squad is a more humane, effective and less costly option than lethal injection. He said he thinks the vast majority of Mississippi residents would support an optional firing squad.
“It’s been one of the more common practices through history,” he said. “It’s very instant and about as humane as you can get while performing an execution in my personal opinion.”
Death penalty opponents called the move “barbaric.” Jim Craig, a lawyer who has sued Mississippi over its current method of execution by lethal injection, noted lawmakers voted on the afternoon of Good Friday, the time when Christians believe Christ was crucified.
“I find it frankly disgusting that in the week we’re commemorating the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, the Mississippi Legislature is so devoted to vengeance that they want to bring Mississippi back to the 19th century,” Craig said.
Utah is the only American state that has executed someone by firing squad since the resumption of the death penalty, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. That nonprofit organization opposes executions and tracks the issue. Utah has killed three men by firing squad, the most recent in 2010.
Other states have begun adopting alternate methods of execution to be used if lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional or a state can’t obtain drugs. Oklahoma would use either electrocution or firing squad. Wyoming would use the gas chamber. Tennessee would use electrocution.
Other parts of the bill make secret the names of prison employees at an execution and the pharmacy providing lethal drugs. The measure also bars anyone, including news reporters, from discussing names of relatives of the prisoner or crime victim who attend an execution without their permission. First Amendment advocates say that measure unconstitutionally restrains free speech.
“There are severe implications for First Amendment rights attached that legislators either did not understand or disregarded outright,” said Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association.
The Mississippi Supreme Court heard arguments in November, but hasn’t ruled, on Craig’s lawsuit that seeks to compel the Mississippi Department of Corrections to disclose information about its execution procedure and the supplier of execution drugs. A lower court judge ruled for disclosure in March, but the information has remained secret during appeals.
Hood has said prison employees have refused to work on the execution team because of fears about retaliation. He’s also said pharmacies should be free from “strong-arm tactics” by death penalty opponents.
Craig disputes claims that any person or business has been threatened. The state has introduced no specific evidence of threats in court.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant says he will support the bill if it crosses his desk.
“If the senate passes a firing squad bill, I’ll certainly sign it. My belief is we need to carry out a capital punishment that when the courts say that it’s necessary; and if it takes a firing squad we’ll do exactly that,” said Governor Bryant.”
The bill will disproportionately affect African Americans in the state, as Mississippi still struggles to escape racism embedded into it’s systems, especially increasingly privatized criminal justice system.
According to ReThinkMS.org:
“African Americans account for 61 percent of Mississippi’s prisoners, but only 37 percent of its population.”
The arrest disparity is reflected throughout the state, even in areas where African Americans commit crimes at similar or lower rates as white Mississippians.
Since 2008, The Innocence Project of Mississippi has exonerated more than 8 men charged with capital murder, and many others charged with lesser crimes. Some of these victims died in prison, charged with crimes they did not commit.
Governor Bryant’s steadfast adherence to supporting capital punishment fails to acknowledge that innocent men and women will be killed in a barbaric fashion when this bill becomes law. I believe Mississippi is better than that.
You can contact Governor Bryant and tell him you can’t support state sanctioned murder of innocent people by calling him at 601-359-3150.