It's time to send 'Yellow Mama' into retirement

Published 11:47 am Wednesday, May 15, 2002

By By Brian Blackley, Publisher
"Yellow Mama" claimed another life last week, once again amidst the controversy over whether or not the electric chair is a suitable means to an ultimate end.
As state lawmakers volley back and forth over whether or not our state should follow other states in a move to lethal injection, many attorneys and activists claim that if capital punishment should be used, a different form should be selected.
The callous side of me is tempted to say that it's all the same in the end – either way you go, you GO.
But I am a believer in capital punishment for heinous crimes and I think the penalty serves as both a deterrent and as a means of settling the score in an unfair game. I think that as a person who has loved ones I would want anyone who executed someone dear to me to suffer the same fate as the fate he or she delivered. If nothing else, execution puts the ultimate form of closure on an issue.
And it is my belief that as the world changes and people urge more "sensitivity" toward all people – good and bad – that we are headed for choppy water if we continue to call out Yellow Mama to carry victims to their final resting place.
I understand that a death by electrocution is a terrible one, and one day a judge in this state will call a halt on executions based on the grounds that the means is "cruel and unusual." Given our current advances in technology and medicine, we have the ability to change the means and accomplish the same ends.
Over a year ago, a man took the argument to the Alabama Supreme Court seeking a stay of execution pending a change of the law. He lost his argument and his stay was denied. And the midnight hour came and brought his life to an end.
But people will continue to make the argument and Alabama, already maligned by footage of Selma in the 60s, will be under more pressure, more national scrutiny and will have to battle the images of lynch mobs in white robes when the national media comes down here.
Over the years, our state has been proclaimed to be the home of segregation, of racial hatred and separation, of being a place behind the times, grounded more in tradition than in sensibility. And so it still is today when people look at us.
Skewed or not, journalists report that the numbers of black Americans jailed is dramatically higher than whites. Some claim there is racial bias and point to these statistics to explain it.
While I strongly disagree, I am willing to concede to the fact that perception can quickly replace reality. Poverty is linked to crime and, like it or not, a higher percentage of black Americans live below the poverty line than white Americans.
But do we want to continue to fight this debate when another person must be executed? Or would we be better served to simply change the way we do things?
I believe the fix is simple – get outdated ideas replaced with new ones. Get outdated institutions replaced with modern ones. And send Yellow Mama to her retirement.
There is no other good way to protect our state and our future for our children and their children. We have to get with the times, adapt to change and move forward.
And in this case, the end is still the same.

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