Debate over the death penalty in Colorado continues this election year, as Republican work to make Gov. John Hickenlooper's granting of a temporary reprieve to "Chuck E. Cheese Killer" Nathan Dunlap a campaign issue. A recent interview leaked by a conservative news outlet, as one example, quotes Hickenlooper as considering a full commutation of Dunlap's sentence–along with the governor's growing belief that the death penalty in Colorado (as elsewhere) is no longer a just punishment.
Republicans, aware that this is a divisive issue and that polling shows risk for Hickenlooper's new position, have pounced on the death penalty as a way to divorce independent voters from an otherwise likable candidate. Depending on how you spin it, Hickenlooper's temporary reprieve to Dunlap while he deliberates the efficacy and morality of capital punishment can be portrayed as thoughtful statesmanship or bumbling indecision. Naturally in an election year, Republican opponents are 100% of the opinion that it's the latter.
Yesterday, the Republican news site Complete Colorado reprinted an op-ed from former GOP. Gov. Bill Owens, written in 1993 not long after the Chuck E. Cheese murders. GOP social media surrogates were quick to spread it around:
— Kelly Maher (@okmaher) August 27, 2014
But when we actually started reading Owens' 1993 Rocky Mountain News guest column, which we had never heard of before yesterday, the "shivers down our spine" were likely for reasons other than GOP operative Kelly Maher's.
This fall I visited Xian, a city of 3 million in southern China. While there, my guide told me that recently he had seen a flatbed truck slowly moving through the crowded streets of Xian with two men tied to stakes in the back. A day later, he saw the same two men, slumped over, restrained by their ropes, executed by a firing squad.
The men had been convicted of a murder. Their three-day trial took place one month after the murders occurred, and the men were executed a week following, where their appeals were turned down. Total elapsed time from murder to execution was less than two months. The lesson the Chinese people have learned is that murder is a very serious crime and murderers are dealt with swiftly and surely.
I walked the streets and slums of Xian, Beijing, Guilin and Canton by myself, late at night, with no concern for my safety. While I do not defend the policies of the communist rulers, I do believe there is a lesson that can be learned from even a country like China. [Pols emphasis]
In this 1993 column, former Gov. Owens praises China for its speedy executions, comparing their system favorably to "the likely course of events in the Chuck E. Cheese murders"–that is, the American system of due process for the accused and comprehensive appeal opportunities before a sentence like capital punishment is carried out. Even with those checks and balances, capital punishment in the U.S. remains fraught with cases of wrongful executions.
Back to the matter at hand: according to Amnesty International, the "overwhelming majority" of executions are carried out in China, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, and the United States. "China appeared to have executed more people than the rest of the world put together in 2013." It's possible we're just not reading the right magazines or something, but we believe this is the first time we have ever seen the Chinese criminal justice system cast in, you know, a positive light. Even in a 20 year old op-ed, this strikes us as a politically indefensible thing to say.
We confess we have never seen poll on how many Americans would welcome Chinese-style capital punishment. We suspect there would be a few, polling down there with the segment who think the moon landing was fake or that Michelle Obama is a man. But we
think hope it would not be a majority.
Our purpose in bringing this up is not to wade into the debate over capital punishment in Colorado, although that debate will obviously play a role in the upcoming elections. The fact is, the death penalty issue does not break cleanly along partisan lines, as Rep. Rhonda Fields on the left–pro capital punishment, with two of her son's killers on Colorado's death row–and Catholic Rep. Kevin Priola on the right amply demonstrate.
The point is, praising China's ability to shoot people on the double quick may not have the desired effect.