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Monday, June 24

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Airbags

Only a few days into the new year, Illinois welcomed its first Democratic governor in nearly three decades. Rod Blagojevich, a former congressman and the son-in-law of a powerful Chicago alderman, entered office to face a debt of billions and a public leery of state government and its penchant for scandal.

He also inherited an official moratorium on the death penalty, an effort at repentance on the part of outgoing governor George Ryan which, along with the commutation of 167 death sentences, garnered him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

That's a lot to deal with. In an effort to help, I sent off a brief note:

Dear Governor Blagojevich,

Congratulations on taking office!

That said, I don't envy the difficult decisions you'll have to make in the near future. With the current budget crisis and the recent uproar regarding the death penalty, it's safe to say that you've been handed the reins of state at a difficult time.

As I've difficulty managing my own finances, let alone those of the state, I'll spare you any fiscal advice. When it comes to the death penalty, however, I've a few thoughts I'd like to share:

Governor Ryan's blanket commutation has been received with, to use extreme understatement, controversy. Though his reasons for making such a remarkable decision might be debated, I believe that he acted rightly and in good conscience.

Putting aside the ample evidence of inequity and dysfunction within the Illinois capital punishment system, there remain compelling reasons to maintain the moratorium, if not to do away with the death penalty outright.

Proponents often ask rhetorical questions of those of us who oppose death as a means of punishment: "What if it was one of your loved ones murdered?" they ask. When answered honestly, I have to admit that my gut reaction to would be to seek revenge -- to kill the killers.

But public policy cannot be based on individual feelings of vengeance. Subjective emotions do not translate into objective laws. Killing is wrong, be it by the state, or a criminal.

The death penalty is an antiquated vestige of a bygone era. Let's eliminate it from the Illinois justice system. You've an opportunity to make history Governor Blagojevich, I hope you take advantage of it.

Respectfully,
David Elfving

That was written exactly eight months ago. In that time, Blagojevich has extended the existing moratorium indefinitely. Given a system that has exonerated more individuals than it has executed, he could have done little else.

But a prohibition on the death penalty does not strike it from the books. Though the time is clearly right for a proposal to do away with capital punishment entirely, Blagojevich has yet to act.

Nor has he taken steps to reform a broken and obviously unjust system. When offered legislation that would punish police officers who commit perjury, allow judges to exclude the death penalty in cases of scant evidence, and grant the state Supreme Court powers to overturn death sentences it finds "fundamentally unjust," the governor used his veto power to send it back to the state legislature. This puts the entire bill in jeopardy.

The governor objected to the provision that would hold police officers accountable for their testimony. That an officer wouldn't come under fire for offering false evidence in a capital case is inexplicable. That is, of course, until one realizes that Blagojevich was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.

It was an endorsement that bought influence.

Rod Blagojevich, it seems, is far more interested in paying back favors to those who helped him into office than he is in establishing a just legal system.

And he's yet to respond to my letter.

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Comments

Wiz of Odds / September 15, 2003 7:44 PM

Great article. I think Gov. Ryan's moratorium on the death sentence is one of the most brave and wonderful acts by a public official in this state in a long time.

I don't think, however, that the issue is as simple as Blagojevich's kowtowing to the FOP. In the hinterlands south of 129th street and west of Harlem Ave., the death sentence is actually pretty popular, and Blagojevich is, after all, an elected official beholden to the people of the state. The governor's office and the anti-death penalty movement itself need to do a better job of publicizing why exactly the death penalty is wrong. They don't need to preach this in Chicago and its immediate environs, but rather to the rest of the state.

Surely, police officers who knowing commit perjury should be punished, just as any civilian would. His ambivalence towards this provision may indeed be due to his allegiance to the FOP, but it may be a mischaracterization and hyperbole to say that he is "far more interested" in this allegiance than he is in establishing a just legal system.

Thanks for the article. What you must spend on stamps!

 

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