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jueves, septiembre 29, 2011

The Banality of Death: Manuel Valle

You may not have noticed this. There were no big demonstrations. There was no widespread Internet campaign. The traditional media didn’t react. In fact, as in most cases, the state killed its prisoner without much notice. And so it was that on Wednesday, after the Supreme Court denied a last minute stay, Florida executed 61-year old Manuel Valle. Valle was killed for the 1978 murder of a police officer, Louis Pena. That is not a typographical error. Valle was facing death for more than thirty years. He was not nearly the oldest person ever executed in the US, nor did he set a record for the time between the crime and the execution. Valle was just another execution. There was nothing remarkable about his execution. He was the fourth inmate killed in the United States in a week, and he was the first killed in Florida with just sodium pentobarbital

Predictably, relatives of the victim, according to a Florida Corrections press release, expressed “great relief that after 33 years, justice has finally been served for Louis and his family.” What else could they possibly be expected say? Put another way, the usual, well developed Kabuki accompanied the execution. The seemingly medical procedure used to kill. The press release stating the time of death. The dubious expressions by prosecutors and law enforcement that “justice was done.” A drama observers are entirely too used to.

The execution was opposed by the Danish drugmaker Lundbeck, the producer of Nembutal, the brand name of pentobarbital. Nembutal is intended for treatment of epilepsy. In July Lundbeck restricted distribution of the drug after learning that it was being used in executions. And on Monday a neurologist submitted a petition to the Florida Supreme Court requesting a halt to Valle’s execution, claiming that use of the drug in executions is illegal because the controlled substances act prohibits using it for non-medical purposes. An execution, no matter how it is made to appear to be a medical procedure, is not one. The court dismissed that suit on Tuesday.

The execution was also opposed internationally. Spain intervened at the last minute, asking the United States to stop the execution on humanitarian grounds and suggesting that Valle might be eligible for Spanish nationality. The US and Cuba do not have full diplomatic ties.
“We took up this case because under our constitution we are a country that opposes the death penalty,” Spain’s Consul General in Miami, Cristina Barrios said. But all that was to no avail. Nothing could stop the execution.

The death penalty is like that. Sometimes there is something special that galvanizes public opinion about state killing. Maybe it’s possible innocence or age or mental condition or racism or sexism or some other factor. But in general, state killing is banal. It’s ordinary. It continues unchecked. It fades into the background. It persists. It remains generally unnoticed. Until the next “special” execution.

State killing is carried out with such frequency that it is utterly exhausting to try to chronicle each and every execution and to explore the many facets of each that civilized people find shocking. The death penalty is like that. As it kills, it desensitizes. It exhausts. It’s like mercury, it is absolutely lethal and it runs away from our grasp.

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