The Problem With Crazy John Ferguson

One of the things that happens when you have a blog that has been around for  a while is that people “pitch” you to get you to write about something. Most of the time, it’s something banal, like their product or their personal injustice. Sometimes, it’s one of the myriad tragedies that warrant broad publication, but just seem to get lost in the mass of tragic news that happens regularly.

Last October, I was pitched to get involved in trying to save a crazy guy, John Errol Ferguson, from execution. I wrote about it here, and twitted about it as the hour for execution drew near. At the last moment, a stay was issued and the question of his execution went from dire immediacy to the back burner. But the story wasn’t over.

This morning, John Ferguson, who thought he was the “Prince of God,” is dead. Florida executed him and that was that. The Supreme Court didn’t stop the execution, even though they say an insane person shouldn’t be executed. The liberal wing was silent. The whole Court was silent. They aren’t required to explain why they allowed something to happen that should not happen according to their own precedent. It just happened.

Andrew Cohen wrote about it in The Atlantic.

When the sun rose this morning you had every reason to believe that the Eighth Amendment precludes the execution of the insane. When the sun sets tonight you have no such reason to so believe.

Last week, Justice Antonin Scalia excoriated his colleagues on the United States Supreme Court for not always saying what they mean. Today, with a man’s life on the line, with lower courts in full-flowered rebellion, and with a clear and present opportunity to decisively affirm their own precedent, those same justices demonstrated that they don’t always mean what they say. The result is yet another shocking example of the hollowness of constitutional doctrine in the Roberts Court era.

As Cohen explains, he doesn’t write about a foregone conclusion as a rant against the death penalty or the emanations and penumbras of our system’s failings, but to make a point of its hypocrisy:

But what happened here goes beyond the man. It goes to a system where the language of the law says one thing and the implementation of the law says another. It goes to a constitutional regime where we all pat one another on the back for our common decency– we don’t execute the mentally retarded, we don’t execute the insane– while executing the mentally retarded and the insane. The smugness of that, the hypocrisy of it, is breathtaking.

We resort to platitudes to make us feel satisfied with our nation, our system, ourselves, that we are a decent sort of people who adhere to principles, but if there was any truth to the platitudes, Ferguson would be alive.  And he’s dead at the hands of the State of Florida, with the Supreme Court’s tacit approval, conclusively proving they’re full of shit.

And it’s no better here than in Washington. While it was worth a few minutes of my time last October, there were no posts about the next round of saving John Ferguson this week. It’s not that I didn’t know it was coming. I did. It was pitched to me again, and this time, I wrote nothing.

There comes a point when a blawg can harp on the same issue, over and over, because it needs harping over and over. That’s because the issue hasn’t been fixed, the problem resolved, a person saved. John Ferguson was still alive this past week, and though it’s doubtful that anything written here could have changed what happened last night, there was no excuse for not trying to help. Yet, I didn’t.

This was never a one-trick-pony blawg, dedicated to a single issue, a big purpose. Many blogs are, but not this one. My concern was that if I continued to write about one particular issue, one tragedy, it would be boring, serve no purpose (as no one would want to read the same tripe over and over) and still only touch one of a million tragedies worthy of mention.

But reading Andrew Cohen this morning, I feel ashamed that I did nothing further to help the cause of saving Crazy John Ferguson. Sure, I can’t write about every tragic thing the law does to people. And sure, it would be wildly narcissistic of me to believe that anything I write here would have mattered to anyone with the power to save Ferguson. But that doesn’t excuse my not trying.

So Crazy John Ferguson is dead. Our lives go on, and perhaps someone will write something about some First Amendment bully or some cop who can’t shoot straight and is rude to people. Or maybe today will be a day to highlight the industry of legal marketeers whose existence is dedicated to turning lawyers into laundry detergent, or the Slackoisie who whine about the misery of not being handed the keys to the corner office.

And Crazy John Ferguson will still be dead, and the Supreme Court will still constitute a third branch of a government that makes the sweetest noises about its glory but executes crazy people for doing what crazy people sometimes do. And we will still pretend that what it says matters, and parse its nuanced opinions for meaning that will be ignored whenever they want to let a crazy person be executed.

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