Jessie Tafero's life ended on this day in 1990. His death in Old Sparky was a particularly gruesome and protracted affair: three jolts of electricity were required and flames were seen to shoot out of Tafero's head and 6.5 minutes passed before he was declared dead. He like other convicted murders would, in time of war, have been rewarded with a medal, promotion or both. Some reformers say the death penalty is barbaric and call for life sentences instead, others propose supposedly less inhumane methods of execution. Tragically there are as yet too few revolutionaries calling for the swift termination of the global capitalist system which legally robs, slaughters and degrades billions, one in which earning a wage is a prison occupation. This Socialist perspective is developed in the article below.
"The recent legal, ritual putting to death of Caryl Chessman in San Quentin gas chamber, after twelve years' occupation of a death cell, brings into morbid focus the irrational and negative character of the death penalty. Those who defend the death penalty act on the base assumption that human nature is essentially anti-social and that only "the fear of the rope" deters us from asserting our instincts" to wantonly murder and rape. On the contrary, it was our own society, which institutes at every level of social life struggle and competition, that nurtured the violence in Caryl Chessman's make-up during his earlier years. Twelve years ago, Chessman was a hardened criminal, a product of slum poverty, brutalised by a childhood history of reformatory schools. His own criminality was in itself a negative response to the injustices of his own environment. Yet by Chessman's own efforts through education, the man they executed was a thousand cultural miles from the man they originally condemned. But blind retribution had to proceed. For an individual to offend against morals by committing rape, as Chessman was convicted of having done, poses a social problem. But when organised society in all its brutal ignorance exacts primitive vengeance from the life of an individual after twelve years' incarceration, that constitutes a nightmare. The significance of the case of Caryl Chessman will be missed if we fail to condemn the society which first produced him and so brutally destroyed him." (Socialist Standard, June 1960)