What If This Is True?

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[Dwayne Betts]

Well folks, once again I've had a cool time hanging out in the spot. There are a few things I wouldn't to talk about but didn't get the chance. I saw this Chronicle of Higher Education article, "In Praise of Tough Criticism", mentioned on Ethelbert Miller's blog. The gist is that in literary criticism there are two approaches—to not ruffle feathers, and to get up in someone's business until they understand you're correct. Where we should be is probably somewhere in the middle, but I know as a poet there is an overwhelming amount of pressure to just be cool, as the field is kind of small and we all know each other. Unfortunately, that's what has ruined poetry for the public (maybe) and definitely one of the things that has led to the watering down of hip-hop. I'm in the Ishmael Reed writing is fighting camp.

With that in mind—how best would one criticize Texas Judge Keller. Prosecutors are alleging that on Sept 25, 2007 she refused to keep her office open to hear a death row inmate's last minute appeal. The Star-Telegram article is here. Nowhere does the article claim the guy was innocent, but if he had an appeal, he had an appeal. 

This is what an Austin attorney said of Judge Keller:
"She is the public face of criminal justice in the State of Texas," said McKetta. "She has violated a mandatory protocol, a duty of her office in one of the most time-sensitive and irreversible circumstances there can be, moments before a scheduled execution."

This Time piece is a more nuanced take on the issue. I wish I had a moral stance on the death penalty—but I'm still working it out. I do have problems with the innocent being condemned to die, or with a guy like Wilbert Rideau doing 44 years only to have a death penalty sentence thrown out, a life sentence thrown out, and finally getting 24 years for manslaughter. At one point, Rideau, who became an award-winning journalist while in prison, was allowed to travel around Louisiana with only an unarmed guard as escort to speak at universities and do other work around his writing. Michael Richard, the guy executed in the Judge Keller situation, was no Rideau—but maybe the question is would his life been worth sparing had he been.

Anyway, I'm out. It's been another wild ride, and another lesson on how hard it is to blog. Ta-Nehisi should be applauded. Happy father's day fellas.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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