Stephen Kent

Last month, the state of Oklahoma had planned to execute, on the same night, two death-row inmates, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, by lethal injection.

Lockett went first. After being strapped to a gurney, an injection began. Since no veins were appropriate, the needle was inserted into his groin. It failed and poison may not have entered Lockett correctly. He fought against restraints and attempted to sit up and speak despite having been officially declared unconscious. The prison director then called off the execution. Ten minutes later, Lockett was dead of a massive heart attack.

The only person with reason to be happy about the macabre situation was Warner, whose execution has been postponed.

This event, along with outrage at private racism turned public and an overzealous right to bear arms, could make 2014 be remembered as the year of botched actions gone public.

There have been 1,379 executions in the United States since 1976 when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty. These executions capture great attention only when something goes wrong. After Lockett’s botched execution, a number of people are now jumping on the bandwagon of putting a stop to the death penalty, to the point of overcrowding it. They say it is time to review capital punishment.


Even if all 1,379 convicts killed by the state had died serenely and comfortably, time for the death penalty’s demise is overdue.

Then, there’s racism. After very public evidence of its existence throughout the 1960s and 1970s, racism went underground and festered quietly, occasionally surfacing during moments such as the one we witnessed recently, when a pro basketball owner’s attitudes toward people of color were publicly exposed.

Donald Sterling, the octogenarian multimillionaire owner of a National Basketball Association franchise, for years was known for discrimination against black people. The trouble began, however, when a recorded conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend (in which Sterling made disparaging and distasteful remarks about black people) became public.

This botched conversation led to his expulsion from NBA.

And finally … the nation has suffered an unacceptable number of massacres by firearms. But even as some restrictions to firearms are suggested, right-to-bear-arms extremists rush to pass more legislation protecting their stance, such as the so-called “Pop-Tart” bill. The bill prevents punishment for Florida students who simulate firearms when they play. It was named after a case in Maryland in which a 7-year-old student was sent home from school, as punishment, after biting his breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun.

Capital punishment is wrong, not only when it is botched. Massacres are not prevented by more protective legislation for gun rights. Racism is wrong, not only in cases where it is blatant and becomes public.


Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: