A last meal or last request for any man or woman facing execution for crimes is an act of mercy by civil authorities. It reinstates both the humanity of the convict and that of the executioner (most often the state). It recognizes fundamental elements which, to some degree, allow the both the state and the prisoner to understand and express that this is a matter of law, not something personal. And while not all governments have done this, here in the United States its practice rose from our place of distinction with regard to our view of life.
Recently a man in the state of Texas was executed. And the following account of how his last meal was enjoyed was reported by the AP:
The controversy began after Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was executed on Wednesday for the hate crime slaying of James Byrd Jr. more than a decade ago, asked for two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat lover's pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Prison officials said Brewer didn't eat any of it.
Certainly Brewer took this act historic act of a mercy meal or mercy request by the state of Texas and used it as an experssion of contempt toward the state. In other words he poured dirt on their act of mercy. He thumbed his nose at them.
This petty act was certainly no display of dignity but I am not Lawrence Brewer and I do not know what it is like to be exectuted for murdering another man. Honestly, I am not surprised it is not done more often. After all, not every person convicted of murder concludes within themselves while doing their time that what they did was wrong and that paying for their crime is appropriate. And when a person murders another they cross an unsual line. But understand it does not make them an less human than me nor me any better than them. It simply is a line most people never cross so, when I hear about a last meal used to thumb a nose, it is not surpirsing.
But what is more surprising is the even greater act of pettiness by the state of Texas and again, as reported by the AP here is an account of Texas' act of smallness:
"It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege," Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, wrote in a letter Thursday to Brad Livingston, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Within hours, Livingston said the senator's concerns were valid and the practice of allowing death row offenders to choose their final meal was history.
"Effective immediately, no such accommodations will be made," Livingston said. "They will receive the same meal served to other offenders on the unit."
Initially in this post, I explained that the mercy meal was an act which enabled both the state and the executioner to restate the humanity of both, that it was not personal, rather it was judicial. Well, for Sen. John Whitmire, unfortunately he decided to make it personal and that is not only the problem here but much of the problem in the creation of criminal legislation and enforcement today and I attribute this, in large part, to the nature of the ruling demographic, the Crybaby Boomers.
But let me say this about the "personal" thing. When I say it is not personal this has a meaning which has been lost, today, with the Crybaby Boomer and beyond crowd. Personal has to do with one's person so that when we say, "that is not personal" it means that your person, itself, is not what is being considered, rather what has occurred.
Brewer was executed for his crime, not his person. The executioner performs the execution, not because his person is offended (it may or may not be but it is irrelevant) but because this is the order of the state, it is judicial, not personal. Now it is true that the victim and his family can experience and do experience the matter as personal, but even then with their interests and personal experience in mind, Brewer was not found guilty or sentenced to death based on their personal context, again it was judicial.
But today so many laws revolve around the Crybaby Boomer generation and beyond that are formed and enforced based on personal tailoring. One of the greatest boondoggles I can think of are the sex offender registries. They have been formed and enhanced based on personal and isolated crimes. Yet legislation, reactionary legislation, has been formed requiring those involved in all kinds of non-predatory offenses involving sexual activity to register in a public forum as if this is going to somehow stop future crimes. The truth is sex offender registries are to satisfy the rages of a fractional group of those who were offended against and an emotionally/hysterically oriented group of citizens that identify with these victims who want criminal legislation tailored for their own personal wants. The bad news (for all of these people who think this registry or any other does any real good verses the investment and punitive/shaming nature) is that well, very, very little good, if any, is done. The vast majority of new sex crimes are committed by those not on a registry. And those on a registry who do wish to reoffend, they are not going to be stopped by being on a registry. It simply is a tool to humiliate people to satisfy the personal demands of a small group.
And this is what we have in Texas. Texas has lost its dignity because one murderer lost his. Is this what Texas needs to demonstrate to the world, that a petty act by a man who is being executed will control and determine the response of Texas. What the state of Texas should say is this:
Lawrence Brewer was given a mercy meal, a last meal and he chose to use it in a petty manner. We are all the more sorry for Mr. Brewer since this shows his capacity for remorse and dignity is absent. But he is not going to dictate to us, like a spoiled child, whether we show further mercy to condemned inmates because we will. And we will do so because he have dignity and we wish to make clear their humanity and ours. We will continue to distinguish ourselves in a final act of mercy toward condemned inmates.
Shame on Texas but in particular shame on Sen. Whitmire and Brad Livingston, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for their selfish posturing and personalizing of mercy.