Cheering for state-imposed death

The GOP's celebration of Rick Perry's record prompts outrage -- but where was the anger over bin Laden's death?

Topics: Death Penalty,

Cheering for state-imposed death

(updated below)

At last night’s GOP debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was asked by Brian Williams about the 234 executions of death row inmates over which Perry has presided – “more than any Governor in modern times”– and the mere mention by Williams of this morose record triggered an outburst of cheering and applause from the audience:

This episode is creepy and disgusting, though as both Ta-Nehisi Coates and Dahlia Lithwick point out, it’s hardly surprising for a country which long considered public hangings a form of entertainment and in which support for the death penalty is mandated orthodoxy for national politicians in both parties.  Still, even for those who believe in the death penalty, it should be a very somber and sober affair for the state, with regimented premeditation, to end the life of a human being no matter the crimes committed.  Wildly cheering the execution of human beings as though one’s favorite football team just scored a touchdown is primitive, twisted and base.   

All of that would be true even if the death penalty were perfectly applied and only clearly guilty people were killed.  But in the U.S., the exact opposite is true; see here to read about (and act to stop) a horrific though typical example of a very likely innocent person about to be executed by the State of Georgia.  That Perry in particular likely enabled the execution of an innocent man — as well as numerous other highly disturbing killings, of the young and mentally infirm — makes the cheering all the more repellent.  That the death penalty in America has long been plagued by a serious racial bias makes it worse still.  That this death-cheering comes from a party that relentlessly touts itself as ”pro-life” and derides the other as The Party of Death — and loves to condemn Islam (in contrast to its war-loving self) as a death-glorifying cult — only adds a layer of dark irony.



This happened at a GOP debate, involving the current GOP front-runner, and progressives are thus rushing forth to condemn it (condemnations with which I largely agree). The Philadelphia Daily News Will Bunch called it ”utterly sickening” and “a pathetic new low in American politics.”  Bunch added: ”What you heard echoing in the Reagan Library last night was not reason. It was bloodlust, pure and simple, and it was repulsive.”  That’s because “the cheering of executions is the hallmark of a sick society — one that’s incapable of tackling its real demons and looking for vengeance on whomever happens to be available.”

I agree with all of that, and that’s why this morning’s orgy of progressive condemnation made me think of very similar death-celebrations that erupted at the news that the U.S. military had pumped bullets into Osama bin Laden’s skull and then dumped his corpse into the ocean.  Those of us back then who expressed serious reservations about the boisterous public chanting and celebratory cheering of executions were accused by Good Democrats of all manner of deficiencies.

Yes, the 9/11 attack was an atrocious act of slaughter; so were many of the violent, horrendous crimes which executed convicts unquestionably (sometimes by their own confession) committed.  In all cases, performing giddy dances over state-produced corpses is odious and wrong.

Now that this issue has been vested with a partisan angle, and many Good Progressives are marching forward to condemn the act of ecstatically cheering for executions, perhaps the reservations many of us had over the joyous, chest-beating street celebrations over bin Laden’s corpse can be better understood.  Like drenching a citizenry with fear and keeping them in a state of Endless War for more than a decade, training them to publicly rejoice when the Government puts bullets into people’s heads or injects poison into their veins — even if that act is justifiable — inevitably degrades the citizenry and the character of their nation.

 

UPDATE: Does anyone doubt that many of the same Democrats expressing disgust this morning at the Republican cheerleading for Rick Perry’s executions (of people convicted of crimes after at least a pretense of due process) will be the first in line raucously celebrating the Democratic President when he finally succeeds in assassinating U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki with no due process at all?

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>