Black/Afrikan People Must Fight Against the Death Penalty!
by Sis. Marpessa Kupendua - 1/2012
“Had it not been for slavery, the death penalty would have likely been abolished in America. Slavery became a haven for the death penalty. In Virginia, before the end of slavery, there was only one crime for which a white person could be executed. But there were 66 crimes for which a slave could be executed.” – Sis. Angela Davis, 2003
Most of us in the Black/Afrikan community very understandably worry more about our children being killed on the streets than by lethal injection. Some of our neighborhoods are devastated by drugs, poverty and violence and so discussions around the uneven application of the death penalty are a glaring non-issue when so many of us live on the frontlines of these war zones. Each day we hear and read of horror stories that fill us with disbelief, anguish and rage and many want an eye for an eye! We so readily identify with being victimized that we even support the executions of juveniles and the mentally disabled in particularly gruesome incidences. It also seems a preposterous topic to raise because most people can’t possibly foresee that any member of their immediate families could ever face a death sentence.
But when this system offers to murder on our alleged behalf, it carries a double-edged sword. Many may believe in the execution of the perpetrator of today's heinous leading news story, but be outraged at the blatantly unjust execution of another. Unfortunately, we are not given the luxury to pick and choose once we support state-sanctioned murder -- we are either for it, regardless of how corrupt many of these sham trials are, or against it! In 2008 the Death Penalty Information Center stated that 127 death row inmates had been exonerated, and that's just those who were fortunate enough to get evidence admitted that cleared them. The courageous work of anti-lynching heroine Ida B. Wells was not meant to culminate in high-tech state lynchings where even the cause of death is certified as 'homicide'.
Statistical data is abundant that the criminal justice system, from profiling, arrest, and sentencing, impacts Black/Afrikan and Latino defendants the harshest, and the death penalty is, of course, no exception.(1) Although some political activists will concede the racist, classist and political aspects of the death penalty in specific cases, they continue to remain uninvolved in the larger struggle to abolish it completely.
Black activists must dialogue and challenge that mindset within our ranks, or we continue to risk that far too many of our brothers and sisters – such as Bro. Gregory (Ajamu) Resnover, Bro. Ziyon Yisrayah, Bro. Shaka Sankofa, Bro. Troy Davis and many more – will be wiped off of the planet. If we stand against racist oppression, we must fully understand that we are all under potential threat of life – slow-speed death sentences -- or straight up legalized lynching.
Since Georgia succeeded in murdering Troy Davis, an innocent man with worldwide support during which Black people held the highest positions in this country and did not intervene, what is to stop the executions of dozens more wrongfully convicted and oversentenced captives with limited or no support, particular those the state paints as 'terrorists' during the age of NDAA? We must include the abolition of the death penalty as a major plank of all of our platforms. No more treating capital punishment as a back burner issue and dismissing it as a largely white movement!
Existing mostly-white anti-DP organizations should be confronted as to their lack of employment of Blacks and other people of color, especially those who have intimate knowledge of the death penalty through personal experience. Bro. Lawrence Hayes wrote an open letter to anti-DP organizations in December, 2011, that explains his personal frustration as someone who was entombed for 2 1/2 yrs in the death house and 20 yrs in prison before being exonerated: "After my release, I help found the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and have worked in Education, as a Paralegal, for an anti death penalty United Nation's NGO and in Human Service. I am well educated, can write and publicly articulate my positions, I am conscious and bring first hand experience to an organization that no other employee has. However, for the past five years I've made several attempts to work in a capacity directly involving anti death penalty work, mainly with groups like the Washington, DC based National Death Penalty Center, ACLU, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Amnesty International, etc. and haven't been able to land a job. This disturbs me to no end and I would like the anti death penalty activist community, these organizations volunteer members, staff and donors to ask this question of why, with the release so many former death house prisoners, they don't have a single one working for them."
“I must admit that at times I wonder and question the intentions and knowledge of the death penalty activists (abolishers) who are horrified and oppose the killing of human beings, but who are not horrified at the very system in its totality, which renders such biased and unjust sentences upon its citizens and which contributes to the dehumanizing of its citizens. I say in turn that it’s not just the death penalty which must be overturned, but the whole institution of criminal justice as we know it must be overturned.” – From “What Is a Death Sentence?” by Bro. Adullah Hameen, who was legally lynched by the State of Delaware on May 25, 2001
The oppression of the Black community via the criminal justice system and its agents intensifies by the day. Vicious police attacks are openly viewed in all their sick glory via the internet, putting their hate speech, beatings, shootings and murders on full blast before the world. We are also all too familiar with the massive oversentencing of Blacks vs. their white counterparts, manufactured evidence, tortured confessions, deliberate confusion, lies and even more. Our children are seen as sub-human, easily manipulated, animalistic and unemployable, sent down a conveyor belt straight to these dungeons and thus insuring the financing of their own encagement.
Even though many folks will concede that some captives may be innocent, at least of lesser counts than those with which they’ve been charged, and that some belong in drug or psychiatric treatment and not prison, and that of course some are becoming more hardened and callous than when they went in, and that yes some will be raped, beaten, tortured, enslaved for corporate profit while in prison and even killed – the bottom line for many remains that our community cannot be seen as making excuses for crime, a la Bill Cosby. As a result, many of our brothers and sisters will advocate even harsher punishments than the system already has in place and mimic those who would call for the jailing of our children for “crimes” such as wearing sagging pants or violation of noise ordinances!
We still yet believe that this system’s laws are designed to protect us, when nothing could be further from the truth! When presented with evidence that the death penalty is race- and class-based and not evenly applied, many will respond that yes, it needs to made fair, but it doesn’t need to be gotten rid of, not in all cases. These laws are abitrary, political, and remade at the whim of whoever is holding our lives in their hands. This system’s very foundation of racism and corruption can never be reformed or “made fair,” so it definitely cannot be trusted to determine who lives and who dies.
Capital punishment is itself premeditated murder! It’s about keeping alive this country’s bloodthirsty passion for lynching, a passion which they will fight to feed even in the face of overwhelming innocence, recantations of perjured testimony, even to the point where an unhealthy inmate will be cured just so that they can be healthy enough to be murdered on death day!
But how many police officers and/or other officials were given the death penalty for the terrorist murders of 11 members of the MOVE family – men, women and children – when police dropped a BOMB on their home in Philadelphia in May, 1985?! How many police officers were given the death penalty in the bloody murder of 7 year old Ayanna Jones in Detroit as she slept on the sofa in her family's apartment in May, 2010? How many police and/or other officials are given the death penalty for the murders of people in our communities, period? Their badges, guns, tasers and titles do not give them the right to judge who gets to live or die – on the streets or in their prison death chambers!
“As I sit here on my bed, exhausted yet full of joy and uncertainty, feeling the affects of seven and a half years of constant chemotherapy, I am reflecting on the day of Sept. 23, 2008, as we entered the grounds of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, where I wanted to cry but I could not; I wanted to yell but I could not; I wanted to leave but I could not. Then I watched the expression on my son’s face, that for the first time in his 14 years of visiting death row, he witnessed more than 100 SWAT, Tactical Squad officers, corrections officers with dozens of dogs, shotguns in hand, all because the state of Georgia wants to kill his Uncle Troy. I have only seen such force on television from the civil rights era.” – from “Silencing our Joy” by Sis. Martina Correia, sister of innocent death row prisoner, Troy Davis, Sept. 25, 2008(3)
When addressing the needs of families of victims of crime, we must include the families of death row inmates. They are among the most underserved and unspoken of as they, too, cope with the tremendous depression suffered by all grief-stricken victims. These families, adults and children, are barely able to function while on the dizzying legal rollercoaster leading up to their family member’s date with death. Some are treated as pariahs within their own community while struggling to carry on with work and school – simultaneously acting as their loved one’s source of emotional and financial support, traveling sometimes incredibly long distances to visit through glass or even by video, gouged by outrageously over-priced phone calls and advocating for these inmates with inadequate legal representatives(2), politricians and god-complexed prison officials. These families are not offered comfort or treated with even the most basic human dignity.
The good news is that more and more community activists, and most significantly our creative and genius-filled young brothers and sisters, are not only adopting a community-wide view that eclipses the media and societal pressure to be consumed with self and self alone, but even understanding the broader significance of our people’s global struggle for liberation and self-determination! There exists an incredible potential to seize the time and build a strong anti-death penalty contingent within our organizations and/or to make certain that a representative of our groups becomes involved with existing anti-DP organizing in our area, lest we continue to scramble and scurry when emergencies arise. There is an immediate need for education and discussion around the issue of capital punishment and there is an abundance of anti-DP information on and off-line to be disseminated within any gathering of our people.
Furthermore, these politricians have to be made to feel that their continued allegiance to capital punishment will negatively impact their careers, and so will anyone else who purports to act as a religious or other type of representative spokesperson for our communities. Anyone who speaks about being 'pro-life' should be confronted if they are not just as passionate regarding abolition of the death penalty!
Addressing police and prison issues is critical to building grassroots activism in any real and meaningful way, it is a fact of life for the Black/brown segment of the 99%, and the issue of state sponsored murder is a crucial part of that. This is the system that far too many of our families are touched by and, as Bro. Hameen wrote, not just the death penalty but “the whole institution of criminal justice as we know it must be overturned.” We must make it “un-hip” to be down with the death penalty, particularly amongst our own ranks!
"I think we need to increase our tactical strategies to include boycotts and national/international protest. I think we need to push for psychological and emotional therapeutic counseling (stress, anxiety, anger management and bereavement) for the families of men and women facing capital punishment, especially after an execution. I, also, believe that because of the economic situations in most African-American and Taino communities, we need to develop creative ways to organize the African-American and Taino anti death penalty voice." Bro. Lawrence Hayes, exonerated death row inmate.
ABOLISH THE RACIST, CLASSIST DEATH PENALTY! FORWARD EVER!
(1) From www.deathpenaltyinfo.org:
• Even though blacks and whites are murder victims in nearly equal numbers of crimes, 80 percent of people executed since the death penalty was reinstated have been executed for murders involving white victims.
• More than 20 percent of Black defendants who have been executed were convicted by all-white juries.
(2) More at www.innocenceproject.org/understand/Bad-Lawyering.php. Please also check www.troyanthonydavis.org, www.onamove.com and www.freemumia.com.
(3) Sis. Martina Correira died of cancer on December 1, 2011, 2 1/2 months after the state's premeditated murder of her innocent brother, Troy Davis.
(Portions were taken from http://dreadtimes.com/blogs/entry/The-Black-Afrikan-Community-and-the-Death-Penalty)