PUBLISHER LARRY FLYNT TAKES ON THE DEATH PENALTY
by American sociobiologist, Rebecca D. Costa
Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler Magazine – a magazine that set the stage for a historic showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court over the First Amendment (freedom of speech) is preparing for his second act – this time he’s testing the limits of the Eighth Amendment.
Last month, a federal court of appeals cleared the way for Flynt to join a lawsuit filed death row inmates in Missouri who demanded access to the drug protocols the state uses to conduct lethal injections. Â The drug and procedural protocols will determine whether the executions rise to the standard of “cruel and unusual punishment” which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.
In an ironic twist of fate, among the inmates filing the suit was Joseph Paul Franklin, who was responsible for the 1978 shooting that left Flynt partially paralyzed. Â His attacker later received the Death Penalty for eight murders (unrelated to Flynt’s shooting) and was executed before he had the opportunity to see Flynt join the same suit.
Appearing on The Costa Report, Flynt made it clear that his opposition to the death penalty did not exclude his assailant. “I’ve always been opposed to the death penalty because I’ve felt that it isn’t a deterrent.” Â He continued, “In the 18th-century England, where pickpocketing was a capital offense, the local square would be filled every Saturday to watch them hang the pickpockets. While they were doing that, people would be going through the crowd picking pockets. So I think the English learned very early that the death penalty was not a deterrent.”
In April 2012, The National Research Council concluded that studies claiming that the death penalty affects murder rates were “fundamentally flawed” because they did not consider the effects of non-capital punishments and used “incomplete or implausible models.” A 2009 survey of criminologists revealed that over 88 percent believed the death penalty was not a deterrent to murder.
Though Flynt empathizes with people who want to see perpetrators like Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev receive the ultimate punishment, Flynt believes many people would change their minds if given enough more time to grieve and gain perspective.”When you want someone punished, are you looking for justice, or are you actually seeking vengeance,” he asked. “If you’re saying, ‘Off with their heads,’ maybe that’s vengeance. If you say, ‘Spend the rest of your life in a 4-by-6-foot cell and think about what you’ve done’ … that, to me, is justice.”
Another problem Flynt sees with the death penalty is that a disproportionate percentage of criminal on death row today are people of color, inmates who are too poor to afford a good legal representation. “You’ve got to understand why more people of color are committing these crimes: The unemployment rate among black youth is three times what it is among whites. And black kids are dropping out of school at a rate of 64 percent,” he said. “There’s no real hope, no incentive, no motivation for kids in the ghetto, and it boils down to education. I believe a book can stop a bullet.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, people of color have accounted for a disproportionate 43 percent of total executions since 1976, and 55 percent of those currently awaiting execution.
But Flynt remains hopeful. Â He claims that America’s appetite for capital punishment is waning. “Ten years ago, 75 percent of our people were in favor of the death penalty. Today, it’s about even, so there’s been a big change, just like with same-sex marriage. The public’s attitude does change, and that’s about the only thing our politicians listen to.”