Florida Republican: Speed Up Death Penalty Because “Keeping People Around” Is So Pointless

I’ve seen quite a bit of vulgar and sadistic language employed in support of the death penalty, but this gem, courtesy?of Florida State Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Lunatic), is just beyond the pale:

“We have more sophisticated juries today, a higher demand for forensic evidence,” said Gaetz, “so I don’t believe that keeping people around who have confessed to the crime, who weren’t claiming their innocence, really serves the state that well.”


Gaetz has also talked?in humorous terms about executing people; he recently stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and asserted that, though “only God can judge” those luckless souls currently on death row, he and his fellow lawmakers “sure can set up the meeting.”


Evidently, Representative Gaetz surveyed the political landscape in his state and concluded that Florida’s highest policy priority should be to start executing people with increased efficiency. After all, Gaetz reasons, Florida shouldn’t be “keeping people around” who don’t need to be kept around. Far better to just skip all this pesky “legal” stuff and kill them off as quickly as possible.

The legislation sponsored by Gaetz and fellow Republican Joe Negron is called the “Timely Justice Act” and is very likely to be signed by Rick Scott, descendant of Skeletor and current occupant of the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee. Opponents of the legislation include the state chapter of the ACLU and former death row inmates who have been exonerated.

Gaetz confidently claims that the bill will “enhance the deterrent effect of the death penalty.” He has not, to my knowledge, provided a single shred of evidence to support this claim. In fact, not only is this prediction baseless, but the prediction itself rests on another baseless claim, namely, that the death penalty serves as a deterrent?at all. Supporters of the death penalty in Maryland also trotted out?the deterrent argument recently. That the threat of execution deters potential killers from killing is very often presented as a simple truism. This is an affirmative assertion about a matter of public policy, though, that must be supported with empirical evidence. The fact that it might be intuitive or prima facie plausible to some people is not enough. It also does not simply become true by repeating it.

As it happens, there are several very good reasons to think it’s?not?true, like the fact that murder rates in states without the death penalty have been lower?than those in states with the death penalty every year since 1990, or the fact that?88%?of the nation’s leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent, or the fact that 500 police chiefs ranked the death penalty dead last?when asked to name one area as “most important for reducing violent crime.” As I wrote?in reference to death penalty supporters in Maryland, if Matt Gaetz, or anyone else, is in possession of information – denied to the nation’s leading criminologists – showing that the death penalty does, in fact, act as a deterrent, then they are obligated to show it to us. If they continue to make this empirical claim about deterrence, and continue to refuse to provide evidence to support it, then it’s only reasonable to operate under the default assumption that criminologists are more informed about this than politicians, who should be ignored until further notice.

Ultra-right-wing politicians should stop pretending they have legitimate policy arguments and just stick to the crazy and sociopathic justifications that?Gaetz has so eloquently articulated, like wanting to speed up meetings with God, or not wanting to “keep people around” any longer than is absolutely necessary.

Florida has already sentenced 24 people to death who have later been exonerated, which leads?the nation. This is literally the worst state for this kind of policy to be implemented. The editorial board at the?Miami Herald?- which supports the death penalty -?recently called on Governor Scott to veto the Timely Justice Act, arguing that the legislature proceeded “without all the facts,” and pointing out that?eight?death row inmates in Florida who ended up being exonerated might very well have been executed had this law been in effect. The editorial closes by warning that this legislation will “likely result in more innocent people being put to death.”

The average time spent on death row in Florida is?less?than the national average. This legislation purports to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Over 400 people are on death row in Florida, and if this heinous law goes into effect, as many as 13 will probably be executed this year alone. Governor Scott is up for reelection next year and he has shown some signs of wanting to broaden his appeal beyond the ultra-right-wing. If you live in Florida, please call Scott (850-488-7146) and tell him to veto this pernicious legislation. Innocent lives may be at stake.

My writing has appeared on AlterNet, Common Dreams, CounterPunch, and Antiwar.com. I have an M.A. in public policy from Stony Brook University and a B.A. in political science from Coastal Carolina University.