The Consoler-in-Chief was in Aurora, Colo. this week to comfort the community struggling to cope with the mass killing (and wounding) over the weekend. Among the tones of emotion and religious faith that the President is remarkably effective at communicating in his restrained and reasonable way, the sharpest and most quoted words were reserved for the presumed guilty 24 year old, James Holmes, in custody (read the NY Times coverage).
“In the end, after he has felt the full force of our justice system, what will be remembered are the good people who were impacted by this tragedy,”
It is an unsettling reminder that even (or especially) at a time of unending national economic woes, retribution and especially capital punishment remain esssential to our national political culture (for why, see Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear).
The President, after all, has nothing to say legally about what kind of punishment (full force, or otherwise), the killer (if that is who is in custody) will face. He does get to execute people by direct order through drone strikes, of course, as well as deport tens of thousands of others, some to death or worse; and make no mistake, this President has done so with relish and he wants you to know that. While he probably can't do either to James Holmes right now, nobody could miss the parallel with President W's promise to the 9/11 terrorist that they would "hear from you" soon. The President as vengeance-seeker. Why bother with a written Constitution, we should just rule by Icelandic Sagas.
A President who is unable to explain why the Affordable Health Care Act has something to do with justice, social justice, the word justice as punishment comes as easy as "God bless America." The statement "full force of our justice system" is an unmistakable reference to capital punishment. Despite the fact that executions and even death sentences are going down. Despite the fact that state legislatures in New Mexico and New Jersey have taken the once unimaginable modern step of abolishing the death penalty and California voters will be asked to do the same thing this Fall, this President has never missed an opportunity to dip his robes in the symbolic blood of capital punishment.
By the way, do not imagine that evidence, should it emerge, that James Holmes is a suffering from one of several severe mental illnesses that young adults of his age are particularly susceptible to, will prevent Colorado authorities from seeking his execution. Quotes from law enforcement show that they are wholly fixated on putting together a capital punishment case that will focus on Holmes' premeditation and planning. Issues like how Holmes' acquired so many weapons so easily are of minimal interest to either police or prosecutors
Cross-posted from Jonathan Simon’s blog Governing Through Crime.