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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Minneapolis art museum to remove gallows-like sculpture following protests by Native Americans

"Scaffold" by Sam Durant at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
"Scaffold" by Sam Durant at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis will remove a gallows-like sculpture, following protests by Native Americans, who say it brings back painful memories of the mass hanging of 38 Dakota men in 1862.

'Scaffold,' by Los Angeles-based artist Sam Durant, addresses the history of the death penalty, which according to some local audiences brings in the reference to a specific event in Minnesota history related to the US-Dakota War, says a blog of Walker Art Center.

It was set to be unveiled in June, when the museum's Minneapolis Sculpture Garden reopens after a reconstruction project.

Meanwhile, Walker executive director Olga Viso issued a statement, apologizing for not anticipating how provocative the work would be. She said she had spoken with Durant, and he was open to removing the sculpture.

"As director of the Walker, I regret that I did not better anticipate how the work would be received in Minnesota, especially by Native audiences. I should have engaged leaders in the Dakota and broader Native communities in advance of the work's siting, and I apologize for any pain and disappointment that the sculpture might elicit," she wrote in an open letter.

Mankato, Minnesota, December 26, 1862
She, on that note, clarified, "This composite forms what Durant intends as a critique-"neither memorial nor monument"-that invokes white, governmental power structures that have controlled and subjugated nations and peoples, especially communities of color, throughout the history of the US."

Viso further wrote, "Yet despite my and the Walker's earnest intent to raise understanding and increase awareness of this and other histories in our American democracy, the work remains problematic in our community in ways that we did not sufficiently anticipate or imagine. There is no doubt that what we perceived as a multifaceted argument about capital punishment on a national level affecting a variety of communities across the US may be read through a different lens here in Minnesota. We also acknowledge that the artist's intent to create a work meant "as a space of remembering" may be misread. Because the structure can serve as a gathering space, which allows visitors to explore it in un-ceremonial ways, we realize it requires heightened attention and education in all of our visitor orientation and interpretation."

Adding, "This is a deep learning moment-and will not be the last-for the Walker and its relationship with Native audiences. I pledge that we will continue to learn actively, and in public, and to create pathways for listening and supporting the full range of conversations that this work will engender as they evolve in the weeks and months ahead."

Source: Star Tribune, Associated Press, May 28, 2017

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