WHEN MARGIE Velma Barfield was executed by lethal injection early Friday morning, no screaming mob cheered on her executioners. Among even the most avid fans of capital punishment, a certain delicacy apparently prevails when it comes to the dispatching of a grandmother. No such etiquette, however, restrained the crowd that gathered outside the deathhouse in Huntsville, Texas, where, earlier in the week, Thomas Andy Barefoot was put to death.
As executions again become a more or less routine occurrence in this country, you might expect that public interest in them would subside. Instead, it seems to be growing. Observers from Amnesty International and other opponents of capital punishment remarked that they had encountered more hostility from the Huntsville crowd than at any other execution.
As the small group of execution protesters held candles and formed a circle, the pro-execution crowd reportedly shouted at them such things as this: "Anti-Texans," "Go Back to Moscow," "Freaks and Nerds."
The Huntsville mob also set the recent record for tasteless displays. That was won by the woman carrying a 4-foot long mockup of a syringe. That brought gleeful shouts of "Hit me with your best shot," from some members of the happy group. Others in the crowd were not so pleased by this reminder that Mr. Barefoot would die by the relatively dignified method of lethal injection. They carried signs reading "Bring Back Old Sparky" (the nickname for Texas' old electric chair), "I'd rather see the lights dim," and "Students for the Chair."
That's right, students. This happy crowd was made up of students. College students. It's enough to make you long for the bad old days.