The state of Texas executed Lawrence Russell Brewer last week, and I didn’t shed a tear. Brewer was a despicable man. A self-proclaimed white supremacist, Brewer joined with two others in 1998 to murder James Byrd Jr., a 49-year-old African American man, by mercilessly beating him, urinating on him and then tying him by the ankles to the back of a pick up truck and dragging him for miles on an asphalt road until he died.
Brewer’s execution garnered the requisite headlines, but the controversy surrounding his last meal has nearly outpaced that coverage.
According to the Associated Press, Brewer asked for and was served two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat lover’s pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Prison officials say Brewer didn’t eat a bite of it.
That ticked off a Texas lawmaker, who convinced prison officials to end the practice of offering special meals on the eve of execution. From now on, those facing imminent death will be served the same fare as the rest of the prisoners. The state argues that the new policy has nothing to do with saving taxpayer dollars and turned down a former prison cook who offered to provide the last meals at his own expense.
Texas continues to be a veritable killing machine, consistently putting more prisoners to death than any other state in the union. The process has become numbingly routine, and that diminishes all of us. And I believe this is true whether you live in Texas or not and whether or not you support capital punishment.
The ritual of the last meal shouldn’t be so much about catering — iterally — to an inmate’s last wishes as about marking, in the tiniest of ways, a somber and sobering event: the taking of a life by the government. Wiping out the last meal in response to Brewer’s irksome behavior is spiteful, petty and dumb. What else would you expect from an unrepentant cold-blooded killer? But shouldn’t we expect more of ourselves?