In a new segment on NBC's Tonight Show, Jay Leno presents the audience with a gluttonous menu and asks them to guess whether it's a value meal from an American restaurant chain or ... a prisoner's last meal.
By making a joke of the death penalty, Leno is both trivializing the suffering involved and sanctioning its existance. Send him a letter now urging him to pull this segment.
Oversized fast food meals deserve deserve plenty of ridicule, but this joke falls apart when it turns to the harshest penalty our government doles out. Executions are surrounded by so much pain and suffering -- from the family and community of the crime victim to the relatives of the prisoner and the prisoner himself. By making fun of last meals, Mr. Leno is making a joke of violent crime and state killing -- and that is simply not acceptable.
And while some prisoners do request huge feasts before their execution -- more often a last meal simply shows the humanity and frailty of the person we're killing. One of the most stark examples was the execution of Rickey Ray Rector in Arkansas in 1992. For his last meal, he ordered steak, fried chicken with gravy, cherry Kool-Aid and a slice of pecan pie. Mr. Rector suffered from mental illness, and didn't understand that he wouldn't be coming back to his cell after the execution. He left the pie for later.
To recognize the suffering of victims families and the families of prisoners, please stop trivializing the death penalty and cancel your segment "Value Meal or Last Meal."
Thank you for your attention.