law, politics, rants, Virginia

Virginia… turning into a place I don’t recognize! And that’s not a bad thing!

Yesterday, as the evening was turning into nighttime, a friend of mine shared a Washington Post article about my beloved home state of Virginia making a couple of very noteworthy changes to the law. The first change is that the legislature voted to ABOLISH the death penalty! That is HUGE news. Virginia has a history of being a very pro death penalty state. And now, it’s joining more progressive states that have done away with the barbaric practice.

I distinctly remember in twelfth grade, visiting the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond, just months before it was demolished. My government teacher arranged this field trip, which allowed us a tour of the prison, as well as a visit to what was death row. We saw the electric chair, and some of my classmates even sat on it. I remember touching it, feeling the hard wood and thinking about all of the men who had died sitting there. Sadly, a lot of people were laughing… including teachers. At the time, I didn’t consider the gravity of it. I was still pretty conservative and black and white in my thinking in those days. It kind of gives me chills, now.

The other change is that the legislature has voted to legalize marijuana. Again… big news! Marijuana is a legitimately useful drug for many people with medical conditions. It’s also potentially fun for some folks. While some people have issues with weed consumption, marijuana is, by and large, less harmful than either tobacco or alcohol are. Virginia is a big time tobacco producing state, so there’s a lot of money tied up in tobacco. But tobacco is not that good for anything but killing people. Marijuana, by contrast, may not be healthy to smoke, but does help improve symptoms in many medical conditions– everything from glaucoma to seizure disorders to multiple sclerosis to cancer. I have seen, with my own eyes, how CBD oil has helped my dogs who have had mast cell cancer. There’s no THC in CBD oil, so there’s no high. There’s only the benefits that come from the oil.

I enjoy marijuana. I have only had it a few times, and each of those times took place during a 2015 visit to The Netherlands. I probably wouldn’t mind using it for recreational purposes, but I am most excited that it will be used for medical purposes. That will help a lot of people. What’s more, potheads are usually much less violent than alcoholics are.

I looked at a few comments about these two revelations this morning. Most of the readers were very enthusiastic about them. One guy was upset about doing away with the death penalty, claiming that taxpayers shouldn’t be saddled with supporting convicted killers for life. I was a bit flabbergasted by that comment. Many people are under the mistaken impression that the death penalty is somehow a money saver. It’s not.

Consider this. A person who is sentenced to death is going to get an automatic appeal. Since a lot of the people who end up on death row are also unable to pay for their own legal defense, taxpayers end up paying for that, as well as the associated court costs. Death penalty cases often require more attorneys, some of whom have special training for death penalty cases. Attorneys cost money.

Also consider that death penalty cases usually involve DNA testing, which isn’t cheap. The DNA testing is necessary, since we want to make sure the right person is being held accountable, especially since innocent people have been executed or just put on death row in the past.

A person who is on death row also requires more security and special housing. That also costs taxpayers money. And consider that it often takes many years for death sentences to be carried out. I’m not sorry about that, since there have been recent cases of people being exonerated due to the evolution of DNA and other scientific testing. Imagine being sentenced to death in 1989 and being exonerated decades later. That HAS happened.

In the 80s, we thought we had state of the art technology. Obviously, we didn’t. Meanwhile, some poor person has been languishing on death row in prison for many years. How does one apologize for a mistake like that? Often, the wrongly convicted person sues and wins a settlement, which also costs taxpayers money. I don’t think they’re wrong to sue, either. I would sure want to, if I’d spent decades rotting in prison, in fear for my life, for a crime I didn’t commit. All too often, prosecutors are focused on conviction rather than actual justice. It’s fine to want to win a case, but it’s crucial to make sure the right person faces justice, particularly when it involves an execution.

The bottom line is, I only think the death penalty is appropriate in cases in which there is absolutely NO DOUBT of the accused’s guilt, no doubt that the person would kill again, and public safety is definitely at risk. Most death penalty cases don’t fit that criteria. So I’m glad to see that Virginia is going to abolish the death penalty… at least until someone comes along and decides it needs to be reinstated. But hopefully, that will never happen.

I noticed another person commenting about how Virginia now isn’t a “Southern” state, but a “Mid-Atlantic” state. Or, really, what he said in very excited, hyperbolic terms is that we should stop referring to Virginia as part of the South. He doesn’t want Virginia to be lumped in with the Carolinas or Tennessee or Kentucky, mainly because Virginia went from red to blue.

I kind of bristle when people say that. I am a southerner, and I was born and raised in Virginia. I don’t think that has anything to do with a person’s political leanings. A person can be southern and not be a Trump supporting, racist, sexist, redneck. The southern United States has an ugly past. Virginia was very much in the thick of it. Trying to whitewash or deny that past isn’t useful. Moreover, not everything about the South sucks. I, for one, miss southern cuisine very much… and southern accents, which I hear every time my mom speaks. I used to hear it from my dad, too. And I have read some thought provoking, imaginative books by southern writers, who have a way with words… and have listened to great music inspired by the South. Being southern isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

No, Virginia is not like Mississippi or Alabama or Georgia (which has also turned blue, though perhaps temporarily). I’ve been to all of those places… and there are wonderful things about each of them. And they’re all going to have the history of the Confederacy in common forevermore. Changing and denying Virginia’s culture and whitewashing its history isn’t going to change its past. Why not let Virginia stay southern while cheering on its progression into the 21st century? Why not recognize that there are some proud southerners who are not like the worst southern stereotypes?

It seems to me that turning “southern” into a dirty or pejorative word is kind of an antithesis to progression, isn’t it? Don’t progressives like to embrace inclusiveness? Aren’t we always preaching about tolerance? Isn’t it a sin to dismiss an entire region and culture based on the bad actions of a few? And aren’t there racists and backwards people everywhere? I mean, if a person doesn’t want to be considered southern because he or she is from Virginia, that’s their right. But I am not unhappy to be a southerner. I’m a southerner who doesn’t embrace the backwards and toxic history of my origins. That’s a good thing, right? I don’t have to divorce my heritage to be able to do that… although if I’m being technical, I’m not really American, either. I’m a European who happened to be born in the South. But that’s a topic for another day.

Anyway… kudos to Virginia. Maybe, if we ever get back to the United States, we will move back to the place that will always be my home.

Today’s featured photo is of glorious Goshen Pass near Lexington, Virginia. I took that photo during my latest trip “home”, in November 2014.

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