Category Archives: First they came

Update: Middleton to die after stay overturned

After a federal judge granted a brief stay of execution to evaluate Middleton’s compentency to be executed, an appeals court has overturned it.  In essence, the court ruled, Middleton failed to pursue the compentency issue at state level, and it’s too late.

John Middleton will die whether he is competent or not, whether he is innocent or not.  He will lose his life to a due process that is concerned with process to the exclusion, too often, of real justice.

Evidence proving he could not have committed the crime has been thoroughly disregarded by State and courts.  In other words, by men who should be supremely interested in anything that would prevent the kind of tragedy that takes place tonight–that would not need to take place, if those who guarded the law would keep the open minds and ears they are meant to keep.  This is a fail for all of us.

Rest in peace, John.  May you go gently.

Missouri, we are not proud of you.


“Who’s Sorry Now”

One minute after midnight, Wednesday morning, July 16, 2014. That’s tomorrow.

Tomorrow, if the State of Missouri has its way, John Middleton will be wrongfully executed in the face of a clear legal doubt. While his lawyers pursue last minute appeals–to the federal courts, perhaps the Supreme Court–Missouri has washed its hands of Middleton’s blood.

In a system that routinely fails to punish bad faith in prosecution–and again, rewards witnesses who please their prosecutors–this shouldn’t surprise anyone. What should surprise us is our apathy in the face of damning evidence: the justice we depend upon can just as quickly, and wrongfully, convict any one of us. But like a flock of sparrows, we wait until the scattered feathers settle–the cat is satisfied–and return as if we are not one less than we were yesterday.

Perhaps–I say this questioningly–apathy is only the bastard child of inexperience. It’s true that most of us have never been wrongly convicted, never known someone who is or has been wrongly convicted. I was the latter, once.

I know better now. It’s a mind-opening experience that filters every waking moment. The sunsets I can only send through photographs. The birdsongs I can only (try to) describe on paper. The world wide web of information–he loves to know what’s going on outside–that I can only filter through the clunky machinery of prison email and my letters. Above all, the years of life stripped away from a man whose dream is to sit on his own porch; and maybe to go for a walk if he feels like it–just to go, with nothing to bar the road and a horizon that goes on opening its doors.

In only one respect, my friend is lucky. His state does not have a death penalty. There’s still time, still a chance for someone to right so much wrong.

I’ve said in the past that I support the death penalty when fairly applied. I no longer believe that’s possible. Until we change, until our system of law and prosecution and witnessing and evidence changes, I can no longer support executions, whatever the crime. Life in prison, without parole, is long enough.

Yes, it’s too long for an innocent man. But maybe it’s long enough for the rest of us to nod our heads in belated justice, and say to a living human being, “we’re sorry. We made a mistake.”

Because frankly, just between you and me and the cemetary, that headstone doesn’t care who’s sorry now.

Because it’s time

…to speak up about a few things, but first, the title of this blog, which comes from Martin Niemöller’s famous words–whether or not he ever used those exact words.

First They Came

” First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

  ” Then they came for the socialists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

    “Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    “Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
    “Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The above is one version of several attributed to Niemöller.  See a little history of the poem here.

I’ve chosen this version, featuring “the Communists” for two reasons: one, there was a time when Communists, capital-C, were the evil in the minds of many Americans.  It was a time when something like the McCarran Internal Security Act could actually pass over President Truman’s veto.  A time when appearing to be pro-Soviet could land you in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, or just cost you your job.  When “pinko” marked anybody who wasn’t sufficiently anti-Communist.

Two, this attitude was, sadly, an improvement on another national defense initiative: the circa 1942 idea that if we–ahem, locked up all the Japanese people living on the West Coast, they wouldn’t betray us to Japan.  Opposing the internment policy wasn’t considered patriotic by any means.  Colorado Governor Ralph L. Carr is noted as one of the few courageous voices at that moment in history who spoke up to say, “this is wrong.”  Ralph Carr wasn’t rewarded for speaking up.  It cost him his political future.

We now know it was wrong to lock up the Japanese.  We’re even learning that it pays to take a more balanced approach in dealing with Russia.  We’re a little slow on a few other things.  This blog is about the other things, with digressions about “other things” in other countries, because wrong is wrong, wherever it happens.

This is me speaking up, because, you know what, I don’t want to be the last one standing when there’s nobody left to say anything.