Confrontations on the Corner Between Pro- and Anti-Death Penalty Groups
Drive-by Hecklers During the Vigils
Keeping the Two Groups Separated
The Incredible Stress on Families and an Incident with Children and Guards
Threats Made Around the Executions and the Gary Graham Execution
Comparing Different Regions in Texas
Murders of Black Men Prior to the Civil War
The Future of Abolition and the Hispanic Community
Polling Date Regarding the Death Penalty
Abolition vs. Working on Individual Cases
Religious Differences in the Polling Data
Scott Vollum's Research on Final Statements and Restorative Justice
SOLIS: No, I don't. I think we got so much, we've just [inaudible] Hospitality House that it's kind of because something that we ask because we've heard a
lot of conflicting things about it.
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: One of the things I will do, and if you will, I've said several things about what I'm going to do and you guys need to remind me
of them because I'm also that absent-minded professor.
It doesn't work with my wife but everybody else I can tell: remind me of this.
There is a former doctoral student of ours who, and she recently graduated and is teaching somewhere now, I think in Connecticut, who worked in the
Hospitality House for a brief period of time as a student intern or something, unrelated to me or whatnot.
And I'll see if she'll talk with you about her experiences. She's the only other person I know who's been directly affiliated with the place. I mean you all
could go over and ring the doorbell and ask them; they might talk to you.
I don't know. It's certainly— it's a private facility so they're not obligated to let you in, but you might knock on the door or ring the doorbell and tell
them who you are and what you're doing and they might say it's against policy and we can't.
RAYMOND: Was this student— what was her dissertation on?
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: I don't know. It had nothing to do with— her dissertation was on forensic science or something silly like that.
RAYMOND: I guess I do have a question to finish out. It's a private facility but it obviously has some connection with the institution, and I wonder, do you
know the nature of that? Do the chaplains come there to do the briefings because that's where the people are, or is that where a witness or family member is required to go, or what if you
didn't want to go to the Hospitality House.
Would you get a briefing somewhere else?
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: I doubt if you'd get a briefing somewhere else. You don't have to go, but if you show up at the prison and there's no one there to
open up, you can't get in.
So you've got to get there at the very moment that the chaplain who has escorted you over from the Hospitality House is there, so you've got to be there to
get in. How you get in if the chaplain isn't there to escort you, I can't answer. My impression was that the only way to be assured entry into the administration unit was to go to the
Hospitality House first.
I do know, as I said, Father Walsh didn't. He would walk straight up. So obviously after some period of time you become known and I guess they open the
In fact, Father Walsh would go through the administration building, so he didn't just walk into the Walls Unit.
He would go through that process first. I do know that there are a couple of other guys. I don't know if you've heard the name Ward Larkin before.
I'll give you his name and his email. He's witnessed at least one and maybe a couple. I call him a pen pal. It's really an overstatement, an understatement
of what he does. He's corresponded considerably with a number of guys on death row and does some quasi-legal appellate work for them. And Ward has witnessed at least once, maybe twice, and I
want to say he didn't go through the Hospitality House. This is Lin so—.
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: You might want to shut it off. Ward Larkin has visited, has witnessed some and I want to say he doesn't go to the Hospitality
House almost maybe out of protest, but you've got to know in advance you can't bring a watch, you can't bring a cell phone, all you can have is a picture ID and that's it.
So I'm not sure. I do know that the Hospitality House provides its services to the prison voluntarily, so there isn't any kind of a contract. I suspect that
if I had said, I object I will not go to the Hospitality House, someone would have told me, okay here's what you need to do.
Be at the north door of the Administration Building at five o'clock and we'll let you in. If you're not there, you're not getting in. That's just my
But you could call the Public Information Office and they should be able to tell you. I don't think it's a secret. But you never know, especially with this
issue. I say that and that was all pre-cell phone discovery. I suspect the prison system is going to become extraordinarily more closed now than they ever were, so who knows?
RAYMOND: This wasn't on my list of things to ask, but now that you mention the Public Information Office, I filed a—
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: Freedom of Information request?
RAYMOND: Freedom of Information request. One of the reasons they've given for some of the information, for not wanting to release some of the information—
They filed for an opinion from the attorney general that death penalty opponents have and, I'm not going to say it right so this is not a direct quote,
have created a system of, well, basically there's a danger to people because of their intensity of the opposition to the death penalty.
And so, just because you've been here since 1984, do you know of any instance of a death penalty opponent getting involved in any altercation or any violent
act or anything that would in terms of security would threaten the security of any person?
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: Yeah. Again, like you said, sometimes these topics just float out.
I'll tell you two, one story and then answer your question. One time, when we did executions at midnight, I remember very vividly, and I can't remember the
guy, I can reconstruct it, but the execution was taking place just after midnight,
so it was very dark. There was a thunderstorm going on, and so the people managing the picket, that yellow tape area, kind of came over and there were four
of us standing on the corner.
There was myself, there was a student in one of my classes, and three; that makes five.
There were three people who were related to the man who was being executed. There were his brother and his uncle, his brother and two uncles, brothers of his
mother, who was in witnessing the execution. And so there were five of us there, and the pickets, who don't usually interact with us at all, but it was raining, it was thunder storming.
One of the guys came over and he asked if we wanted to go stand under this tree to get out of the rain. I immediately thought about the thunder and the
lightning, and I thought I'm not sure, but we all agreed and we all went over and at least felt comforted to be out of the rain and the wind by that one tree that's on the corner of where the
executions take place.
And so we were there and about, oh, the witnesses had already gone in, and so there were— the execution was already underway. And a truck drove by with what
I later realized were two students, and it screeches by and slams its brakes on and these students get out of the car and come standing up. They don't acknowledge us at all, but they go
standing up there in front of the yellow line, and one of them starts singing, "Happy Trails to You," and some kind of a morbid thing.
The other one starts chanting, "Fry the fucker, fry the fucker, fry the son of a bitch, fry the motherfucker."
And at that point in time I saw two of the three people beside me grab the other guy and physically restrain him. And I looked over and the other guy had his
hands stuck down in his pocket, and I heard one of them say, "This is what got us here. You can't do this, you can't do this."
And so it's clear they were restraining this guy, and so I walk over to them and I said, "What's happening?"
And the guy said, "This is my brother, this is my brother, man. He's going to go over and take that guy out. He's gonna kill him."
And I said, Why?
He said, "He called him a motherfucker. He said he's fucking my mother. My mother's in there watching him die."
And so I go, oh, shit, this is not a happy moment, and so I walked up, very quickly, to the two college students who are standing there,
hardly standing but standing there, and I talk to them very quietly and I said, I'm not quite sure what your plan is, and I'm not sure why you're really
here, but you're in serious trouble.
And there's two guys back here, three guys back here, who are connected, and you just called one of their mothers, one of their brothers a motherfucker and
their mother is in there watching us kill him.
I said, If it were me I'd be gone. And they kind of—. And I left, I walked away, and they went and got in their car and sped away again. They came back
another time and screamed something out of the window and screeched away.
There was— that was the closest moment I can think of, of actual violence on the corner.
There have been a number of times, and it probably happens I'm going to say, as often as maybe forty percent of the time there's an execution, someone will
I'll call them drive by hecklers. They'll drive by in their big trucks, and almost all of them are in trucks, and they'll scream something stupid like, "Kill
the motherfucker," or "Hang the bastard," or "Hee, hee, hee," cheering it on.My brother was a police officer. He's retired long ago, and he came to one. He was visiting me one time, and he came
to one of the vigils, and he told me, "Dennis, that's a heavy intersection, and I'm surprised they let you stand there, because if some guy comes speeding down that corner and loses control
while he's whipping his truck around that corner and rolls over, you're dead." So he's been more worried about that accidental kind of death.
Lin is always very worried about my presence on the execution and my safety, because I'm so publicly known in the community as someone opposed to the death
penalty. I've never had anything that I consider to be particularly threatening, but one time, there's a group of people from Houston that call themselves Justice for All.
And one of the people associated with Justice for All is a rabid pro death penalty advocate. And she came to one of the executions, and at one point in time
she got into an argument about the death penalty with me, and I can't remember what it was about, but ended up spitting in my face before she left, before she walked back across the
At one point in time, the prison system didn't make any concerted effort to separate the two groups and I think that's healthy, as a rule.
But sometime ago, and I don't know when, it's been within the last couple of years, I noticed there were never any pro death penalty people on the corner
when we were there, and sometimes I would see people walk up to the people at the picket, the guards, and I would see them talk, and I would see the guard point to the other corner.
We are on the north; we're on the west corner, and they would point to the east corner of that block, and I would see the people talk with each other and
then they would walk or they would get in their car and I would see them drive by. I subsequently learned that's where they direct pro-death penalty people to go now.
I believe it's probably out of some effort to try to keep us safe from them or them safe from us. I'm not sure which. But I've never asked when that policy
was made. I've never known how the people who are coming to protest in support of the death penalty know where to go, but they clearly know.
Whenever there's a person being executed who's murdered a police officer, there's a group of police officers who come. I respect them greatly. They ride
motorcycles, they're Harley Davidsons. It's a Harley Davidson motorcycle club composed of police officers, and so they always come in large numbers and they circle around us and they sneer at
us and sneer at us and drive over to that corner and you can hear their bikes, or their motorcycles. I don't think you call them bikes. You can hear them quiet down and so you know they're up
I don't know when and why and how they know to go up there rather than stay with us, but that separation has taken place more recently.
Two executions ago, not last night but the one before that, there were three guys standing separate from us. They went up and talked to the guards and I saw
the guards pointing. They then left and they came back with a big piece of cardboard. They had made a little sign that said, "Justice for All." I don't think they were with that group,
personally, but they had written, "Justice for All." You could hardly read it, but that's what it was.
And they stood just a little bit left of the stop sign and stood there. So apparently they had been told, if you want to be here you can go up there, but you
don't have to. You can stay here. I don't think that anybody in the prison system can make us move. It's not their property, where we are.They can stop us from standing up there on the corner
where Gloria was and where you guys were. Gloria has threatened to challenge this. Gloria's daughter is an attorney, and so a couple of times they had told Gloria she can't stand by that yellow
line, that she has to come over to where we are, and she's said, "No, I'm not moving."
And so they've talked to her and she's said, "Arrest me." They haven't arrested her and so maybe they can't make her move.
But there is, I think, some concern for the safety of us because I think there are some rabidly pro-death penalty people who think that when we're there
somehow— the reason this woman spit in my face was that there was a police officer who had been killed and somehow felt that I was anti-police so that was her symbolic statement of disgust for
me because I'm supporting a police murderer.
Again, I'm not for anybody particularly. I'm there against the killing. Sometimes it's a lot harder than others, and sometimes those moments on the corner
are just so absolutely painful because the man we're killing is the uncle of the child he molested and murdered and so his brother is standing with us, and it's so— it's got to be so horrible
for them because they're kind of triply victimized by the whole thing.
And I can remember one thing. I don't know if you noticed it or not. There's a picket in the guard tower directly in front of where we stand and whenever
they come out of their picket they're required by policy to bring their shotgun. And one time, this is what was happening, there was this Hispanic man being executed, and his family was all
standing over by the— underneath that picket, near that guard tower.
At that time they would let them stand there, and there were probably fifteen or twenty people. He was being executed for raping and murdering one of his
nieces, and so it was a horribly tense moment for that family, I'm sure, and there were a number of kids, five, six, seven years old down there, and they were just being kids, normal kids.
When the witnesses walked across the street, and I don't remember at this time if it was before they had the witnesses for the victims already in there.
I don't think it was. I think it was when there were three waves of witnesses, and so the first wave had family members of theirs. The second wave was media.
The third wave had family members of theirs. I don't know how they picked who was going to be in which side. But as the, what I think was the first group walked in, certainly the first group of
family members was walking in, a woman with this group lost control. She was about nineteen, twenty years old.
She lost control and started screaming and started running up the sidewalk, screaming, and three little kids started following her. And that picket in the
tower shouldered his shotgun, and immediately all of the correctional officers ran over there and got her before— she probably took fewer than five or six steps before screaming,
but that was a moment where I thought, My God, is he going to shoot these kids, and or his colleagues? I don't understand what he thinks they're going to
achieve by running up. It didn't make any immediate sense to me, but shouldered his shotgun, and I thought, This is a horrible moment. This is it. Fortunately, they got her and brought her
back. They didn't arrest her. They just brought her back to the group, and after that, nobody can congregate over there.
Everybody is supposed to be over on our side. In fact, if you go even farther away across the street of the corner, which would be the corner of over—
anyway, it's directly besides the Walls Unit. There's a big house there. The house where the director of the prison system lives in, you're not allowed to be on that corner because they own
that corner. They don't own the corner where we're at. That's public; Huntsville owns that, and technically if they wanted to make it difficult, they could require us to have a permit before
They don't do that because we're relatively cooperative, but I'm afraid if Gloria keeps confronting that issue, and standing there and won't move for them,
they might say, "Okay. You guys can't be here at all. You're trespassing. You don't have a permit and therefore you've got to go."
But I don't think they'll do that. You never know; they might. So presence of people who are potential violence on the corner has occurred on some
One time, David Atwood, who is a person you need to interview if you haven't, David was arrested. I don't know if he's talked about his experience. He's the
only person I know of who's been arrested there on the corner during an execution, and I understand. I wasn't there for that execution.
I can't remember where I was but it was one of the ones I wasn't present at. It would have been particularly hard because the young man we were killing, his
father and stepmother had been coming to the corner for years and years, hoping that he'd get a stay.
He was a juvenile when the crime— and it was just a horrible situation. But anyway we did it, and it was very hard for David because he had a personal
commitment, a relationship with that family.
RAYMOND: Do you know aside from David Atwood's film, "Across the Yellow Line One Time," of any time, do you know any time, whether at the prison or near the
prison or not, whether any death penalty abolitionists or someone calling for the reform of the death penalty or anybody opposed to the death penalty has acted violently anywhere, or made any
threats? Have there been any reports of that in the press? Have you ever heard anything?
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: The only time I can remember; again, it's one that I was not present for, was the execution of Gary Graham, [also known as] Shaka
Sankofa, when he was executed. The New Black Panther Movement, or whatever it is, Quantell X, who's down in Houston, and his crew, his people, had let it be known in advance that they were
going to be coming, and that they were going to be coming with arms, and that they were going to stop the execution.
They were going to stop the execution, and so there was a high, high alert at the time. There was a guy who was a photographer for the prison system who used
to take the mug shots of all of the inmates before they transferred, transported them from the Ellis Unit to the Walls Unit to be executed, or from Polunsky to the Walls Unit.
He no longer works for the prison system. He's now a freelance photographer, and if I get his name I'll give it to you. He lived in the neighborhood where
the Hospitality House is located, and he said, at that time, that there were members of the Black Panther Party who were recruiting young kids from that community to engage in civil
disobedience and violence for that execution.
It never happened, but that they were actively recruiting and that somehow they had recruited him because he lived there, not knowing his affiliation with
the prison system.
So I know that at that execution I know that there were members of the Black Panther Party that had weapons, supposedly not, no ammunition in those weapons.
But they were there, and again I wasn't here for that one.
I don't think there were ever any physical altercations at that time, but there were threats that there would be.
RAYMOND: And the reason I asked that is because of the prison's response, the system's response to my open records act request, that giving people's names
would put those people in danger, from death penalty opponents.
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: That's interesting. I mean I understand that would be a good reason not to. I don't personally feel any particular threats. Lin
has often worried about that a lot, and I don't know.
VIRGINIA RAYMOND: Last big question, unless you say something that makes me—. Why Texas? Why is it that more executions are committed here than anywhere else
in the country?
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: I'll answer that quickly and then I'll give you a link that is online and it's public so you can do whatever you need to with it.
First of all, you've got keep in mind that Texas is a huge state compared to Oklahoma or compared to Arkansas or compared to even Florida in terms of states that execute.
So the volume, the number— if you look at a per capita execution rate, Delaware has the highest execution rate in the history of modern executions. Why?
Because Delaware executed two people one time and I think that's a third of their entire population. I'm obviously exercising hyperbole, but—.
RAYMOND: Spoken like a true Texan.
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: So, we've got to keep in mind. You've really got to look at rates of execution, and if you look at rates of execution, Oklahoma
and Virginia have sometimes surpassed Texas even though Texas, in raw numbers in any given year, may have executed more people, we've got a population base much larger.
So you need to look at this rate per capita. In spite of that, there's no question that Texas is one of, if not the most frequent users of execution and this
link I'm going to give to you is a lecture that was given last Friday by a visiting, distinguished lecturer who's a professor of law;
he holds a chaired law professorship at the University of California at Berkeley named Franklin Zimring– you know the name.
And Zimring came and he gave a lecture to our graduate students, which was videoed and is now available, and he gave a lecture entitled, "The Peculiar
Presence of the Death Penalty in America and the World."
And one of the things he speaks to is why the death penalty— If you look at the death penalty, it's available in about thirty two states, but only about four
or five execute at all, and then only about two or three of those execute regularly. And his definition of "regularly" is like once every four years. Texas, and so it's a very, very, rare
phenomenon even in those states that have the death penalty, and then those that have it, most of them use it relatively infrequently, like California, as I mentioned before, like Virginia
At one time Virginia was getting up there with us, but now they've gone down considerably, like Florida was. Florida has also reduced recently. So at one
time it was Florida, Virginia, Texas, and Oklahoma, who were killing, who were doing the executions.
So why is that? And he argues that there is a very, very strong sense of vigilantism that is still present in the minds of people who live in the southern
regions of the United States and that that vigilantism shows itself in a willingness to go forward and exercise this ultimate lethal sanction.
And he does a better job of talking about it as a regional phenomenon.And a lot of foreigners talk about America, but he says it's not America, even though
we've got thirty-two states that have got the punishment, it's not going to be used in the great majority of those.
A lot of it has to do with the historical culture of plantation slavery, of vigilantism, of the lack of sense of respect for the authority of the government,
but then a peculiar -- and he doesn't understand -- a willingness for the citizens to give the state, that they don't necessarily trust, ultimate authority to kill.
So why in Texas? It's probably a— I have a lecture that, it's too long to give you. It's called, "The History of the Death Penalty in Texas: Necrophilia,
East Texas Style." And it— I get the "necrophilia, East Texas Style," from the work of psychologist Eric Fromm, who argues that American culture is a culture of death, and it's a culture of
death that not only supports it, but has almost an obsessive, maybe sexual preoccupation with it.
RAYMOND: You're talking about East Texas, which is of course where we are, and Zimring's lecture which I just learned about, the title, "Peculiar Presence"
Peculiar Institution, talking about slavery.
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: Exactly.
RAYMOND: So that explains, or those kinds of references, talk about East Texas, and those would explain or talk about why East Texas has a higher rate of
That doesn't speak to other regions of Texas, particularly the Rio Grande Valley, or West Texas, or the Panhandle, which were never slaveholding, or never
plantation, [inaudible] to East Texas, I wonder if you, have you thought about the different regions of Texas?
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: He talks about them as well in his lecture. And he points out that until recently, the great majority of executions that occurred
in Texas originate, the crimes originate, in Harris County, and that Harris County in some counts for as many as half of the executions that we've engaged in.
Harris County, sometimes Dallas, so if you'll look at East Texas you see if you did a pin map of where people's crimes originate, it's an East Texas
phenomenon. It's relatively rare to have someone executed from the Valley.
Corpus Christi started a lot until about two years ago, and now they've quieted down. I don't know; I can't explain why they would have started, but it is
almost an East Texas county.
If you look at the counties in East Texas, they've got a lot more executions, and if you— the further you get away from the old plantation attitudes, the
less likely it is.
And you've got to associate this plantation attitude with the ability of a people to devalue certain life, and that slaves are less human than whites, and
that therefore we should be able to manage them not unlike we manage cattle.
And if you've got a mad cow, what do you do? You put her down.
And that's kind of the mentality that Erich Fromm picks up on, that Zimring associates with this "peculiar" region of Texas, that originates a lot of the
crimes that ends up resulting in death sentences and ultimate executions.
I point out in one of my lectures to students, and my students and people don't want to know this, they don't want to hear it, and I just did this in a
lecture I gave to a masters of science class on Sunday. That until —The first person we executed in 1995 was historical for two reasons.
One, the first person we executed in 1995. Two, he was the first white man executed for killing a Black person in Texas since prior to the Civil War.
The first white person executed for killing a Black since -- since prior to the "War between the States," as Texans like to call it. And I point out that
it's not just a regional issue – it's a who-you-kill issue, who you are and who you kill.
And so this is the first time we've executed someone since prior to the Civil War, a white for killing a Black, and as it turns out this white guy, the crime
originates in Montgomery County, just south of us
That white guy first killed his wife, a white woman, and then sped away from the crime, went to a grocery store, and shot and killed the store clerk, because
her car, the wife's car, was out of gas, so he stole the grocery clerk's car and drove it to Oklahoma, or wherever he went.
He went to Oklahoma, I believe, and she was a Black store clerk, and he shot her and killed her on a video camera. And so they prosecuted him for killing her
because it was the easiest one to get and then ultimately executed him.
So he didn't only kill a Black person, but he also killed a white woman and he was executed.
The case prior to the Civil War that resulted in the execution of a white man for killing a Black was actually an execution for malicious destruction of
property because this white guy killed a Black who was owned by his neighbor, and it was a high-productive slave who had done something offensive and he shot and killed him.
It wasn't for homicide. In fact it was not homicide for a white to kill a Black. It was destruction of property, and at that time it was a capital
East Texas, cultural kind of ability to devalue life, and once we can, hierarchal-ize life, whether we're talking about the person who is just on the edge of
death in terms of assisted suicide, killing, or whether we're talking about the horrible monster who molests and murders a child, they're monsters, they're on the edge of life, they're not
really alive; they're not fully human.
That's how we can get there, and until we can recognize the humanity of all of us, we're always going to have that little opening, and sometimes that "little
opening," as we know from the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, the opening doesn't take long to open.
And I think we're beyond that in the United States, but geez, you don't know.
There was a moment after nine-eleven I worried about that gate opening huge.
So the culture of death and that sense of why it happens in this region and almost all of those death penalty areas in the United States, almost all are in
these regions where there has been a history of hierarchal-izing life and that's, I think, at the root and the core of our problem.
I don't think as Americans we've ever really fully addressed that issue. And the native people of our country are classic examples, how we just decided they
were savages and we needed to either civilize them or kill them.
RAYMOND: Before we formally started the interview, you asked if we were going to translate these into Spanish and expressed your view that Latinos are, I
think you used the term Hispanics, you thought that was the future of where an abolitional, abolitionist movement would come from or finally succeed.
Is there a connection between that and— Well, let me just ask you, why do you think that the Hispanic population, or Latino or Mexican American population,
would be more abolitionist?
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: In part because they're Catholic, and I know that's a stereotype but it's a large proportion of their faith systems, even though I
know there are Catholics who are pro-death penalty.
I think that any people who have been oppressed and who have been marginalized because of who they are will be more sensitive to the issues that I think need
to resonate in the anti-death penalty rhetoric, the pro-life rhetoric.
The idea that says we need to respect you because of who you are, not judge you and devalue you because of who you are.
So my sense is that any people who have been oppressed, any people who have been marginalized, any people who are still a target of that marginalization, and
when I say marginalized, I mean your life is less valuable than my life and my life is more valuable than yours because,
and part of it is because I'm a hard-working citizen, and part of it is because I'm white.
Part of it is because I'm a male, part of it is because you're not me, and anybody, any group of people who have lived that, I think are more susceptible to
the pro-life arguments associated with the death penalty, the anti-death penalty movement.
The arguments that say almost, okay, let's make the death penalty public policy. How can you explain then why, how, people who kill whites are much more
likely to be charged with capital crimes than people who kill Blacks, regardless of the race of the people doing the killing? I mean it's almost non-homicide for a Black to kill a Black. It's
almost non-homicide for a Hispanic to kill a Hispanic. It's almost not even considered a crime. In the history of this country it was literally that way; in the culture of this country it's
still that way.
And so the people who have been marginalized, I think, are more likely to be, I hope, are more likely to be sensitive to that argument of marginalization and
the danger it represents to our ultimate integration as a people and not a group of different people.
RAYMOND: That sense and that feeling and that hope resonates. You're in academia—well, you're in academics—I can't say that word, and you've done polling on
this issue. Is that sense borne out by polling data?
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: Well, as I said earlier, the public opinion surveys that have been conducted recently certainly bear that out if you control for
ethnicity, if you look at race, Black people tend to oppose the death penalty more consistently than whites.
And women oppose the death penalty more consistently than men.
When you look at ethnicity, though, Latino or Hispanic respondents tend to answer the question more like white men.
First of all, most of the respondents to Hispanic surveys are male so there's a disproportionately male representation of that voice in these surveys that
I've conducted, that have been conducted.
Secondly, there's almost, I want to say this and I don't know how to say it other than just come out and say it and let it rest where it lays: there's an
anti-Black sentiment among a large proportion of Hispanics, so the death penalty is a Black problem, not a brown problem.
Wrongly, that's very, very wrong. It's still the same kind of animosity that exists between whites and Blacks, exists between whites and browns.
And so it's important for that division to be become less frictionalized, if you will, less structured, or powerful.
And so I think that, I believe, and one of the things I've been trying to do is to first of all get a good barometer of the Latino, the Black, the Hispanic
community, because the surveys we've got are I don't think very reliable, and then secondly, from that body of research, try to identify what issues are more salient to the Hispanic community
than to the Black community or to the white community,
to try to develop some public education forums about, so that their issues are going to resonate rather than me going in to talking about equal justice for
That might not be what is of interest. I don't know.
RAYMOND: And by issues we're talking about within capital punishment, like innocence or mental retardation or something like that?
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: Yeah, right. Life without parole, yes, yeah. The issues that could be policy driven, so if there isn't this ground swell of
opposition to the death penalty, at least we could approach it from a legalistic perspective.
I don't think that the death penalty is going to end by Supreme Court decisions. I call what happens, and I think that what appellate attorneys do is
admirable on a case-by-case basis, but I don't think that it's going to result in a sea change in the practice of the death penalty.
I call the legal maneuverings that lawyers go through to try to argue that the three-drug cocktail isn't constitutional legal "smart bombs."
They're kind of like those "smart bombs" that the first George Bush told us we had, so that when we first went into Desert Storm we'd be dropping bombs that
would go down a sewer system and only find families of terrorists and blow up, and if it wasn't a terrorist family they'd sneak out and go find someone.
I mean that wasn't literally what we were told, but we were told that we had a technology, smart military that we would have very little collateral damage.
We learned immediately how much of a fraud that was and how unreliable these smart bombs are.
Now, that's my sense of the legal approach to the death penalty. We might save juveniles who are under the age of eighteen when they commit their crime, but
they turn eighteen on Saturday they commit their crime, and they're dead. I don't think that's the answer to the problem.
And David Dow makes this argument. He made this argument very profoundly in an editorial he wrote in the Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle.
He basically said, all of this distraction about lethal injection is just that, it's a distraction from the big issue, and that is: Should we be killing them
at all? Should we have the death penalty period?
Whether we can, as Mitt Romney tried to do in Massachusetts, construct a fail-safe death penalty so that no innocent people could ever be executed, if we are
able to do that, should we?
I don't think we should. I don't think we can ever do that, and even if we wanted to, if you look at what happened in Chicago after Governor Ryan pardoned
everybody, or commuted everybody on Death Row, put together a study panel and the study panel said, yeah, we can create the system but it's going to cost a one-hundred million dollars a year to
Do you want that? I don't think people want to spend a hundred million dollars a year to take Eric Nenno and kill him when we could contain him in a cell if
we wanted to for forty years and torture him. I don't think that's where we really want to spend our money.
RAYMOND: As you talk about it and as you poll Latino, Hispanic—I don't know how you poll people, voters, where you get your lists from—but do you see
religious differences playing a role?
You mentioned Catholicism, but again, is that borne out? And how what about regional differences? I mean, Texas Mexicans who live in Houston versus in
McAllen or Brownsville.
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: The question about regional representation by race, nothing, or by ethnicity, no. We never have a large enough sample of
non-whites to partition down close enough to have anything like a reliable assessment. So the margin of error in those types of measurements are just huge.
In terms of the question about religion, the answer is yes. And interestingly, Catholics do tend to be more likely than other Christian denominations to
oppose the death penalty, to answer "No" to that first question: Do you support the death penalty for the crime of murder? So Catholics tend to be more likely to say no than others, other
The group most likely to oppose the death penalty are the people who proclaim themselves atheists, or agnostics- nonbelievers.
And I think that the the atheists, myself, when I was an intellectual agnostic, my agnosticism wasn't so much about God but it was about church, and it was
about formalized, hierarchical religions. And so I'm willing to say there may be a creator, but she isn't Catholic, or he isn't Buddhist, or whatever at that time.
And so I think these atheists or agnostics are really anti-authoritarian and they're more likely to say, I don't want to give the state that kind of power
over anyone. And so they're more likely to oppose the death penalty, not for spiritual reasons, but for political reasons in that they do not want the state to have that authority.
I'm going to give you another name.
Scott Vollum, who is one of my colleagues, finished his PhD with me and is now a faculty member over at James Madison University in
Virginia and hopefully this election will vote in the right direction in Virginia. I know he'll vote in the right direction. But Scott Vollum— two things.
One of the things, he and I coauthored an article that examined attitudes citizens had about the death penalty comparative with attitudes about animal
rights. And interestingly found very similar; if you're pro-animal rights you're anti-death penalty, and if you're anti-animal rights, you're pro-death penalty.
A little of that comes into this East Texas culture, where people raise cattle to kill, and so they don't understand this concept of pets, and so you don't
name your cow you're going to slaughter. And so there's a positive relation between pro-animal rights and anti-death penalty, which is indicative of this kind of political alignment that says
we want pro-life type things.
But more importantly, Scott Vollum's dissertation was a content analysis of final statements that were given by men executed in Texas compared with final
statements that were given by the family members of the victims who witnessed executions that were published in the newspaper. So he looked at the attitudes; in essence, what he was looking for
was a restorative justice function.
Is there a restorative outcome possible through the death penalty?
Interestingly, what he found was that there is, but that the restorative justice is on the part of the offender.
Prisoners- people being executed were much, much more likely to express restorative kind of statements than family members of the victims who witnessed the
execution. Family members of the victim who witnessed the execution were more likely to still be angry and complain because the system took too long or because he didn't suffer enough, "I wish
that I had seen him scream," type of statements.
So you might want to talk to Scott about his interpretation of his experiences with that particular project.
It's a very, very powerful and interesting project. I'll give you a link to the PDF of the dissertation itself.
It's available in book form, too, but he might talk to you more. He's in Virginia, and so he might give you some sense of this Virginia versus Texas kind of
mentality since he's now— since he's had experience teaching students in Texas and in Virginia and might give you a little bit of a juxtaposition to look at. So, the rest of your project is
just people I'll refer you to.
RAYMOND: This is wonderful. I had been thinking that I'd been wanting to look at the final statements myself but it's already done.
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: It's good. And much more can be done with it. And his was a dissertation, so it was structured around those requirements.
Video 6of "Interview with Professor Dennis Longmire."
Dennis Longmire is an anti-death penalty activist and a professor of sociology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. In Video 1, Longmire discusses his background, his residence in Huntsville, his interest in the death penalty as a topic of research and activism, his first silent vigil outside the Walls Unit and his role in the case of Eric Nenno, including his experience witnessing Nenno's execution on October 28, 2008. In Video 2, Longmire expands on his role in Eric Nenno's case, and discusses the role of religion in his intellectual and activist commitments. In Video 3, Longmire discusses Eric Nenno's trial in more detail, expands on the history of the prison system and executions in Texas, and compares the hospice movement with standing vigil outside the Walls Unit. In Video 4, Longmire discusses his prayer vigils and witnessing in the context of other activist strategies, and talks about the role of the Hospitality House in Huntsville. In Video 5, Longmire elaborates on his experiences standing on the corner outside the Walls Unit during executions, and considers trends in attitudes towards both the death penalty and abolition of the death penalty in Texas. In Video 6, Longmire discusses the wider communal effects of the death penalty on the town of Huntsville, media coverage of executions, and the interactions between families of the executed and families of murder victims. This interview took place on October 29, 2008 in Huntsville, Walker County, Texas.
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Dennis LongmireRole: Narrator
Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
Gabriel Daniel SolisRole: Interviewer
Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Videographer
Jorge Antonio RenaudRole: Transcriber
Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Proofreader
Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Proofreader
Texas After Violence Project
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