California's Lethal Injection
It is not often, that the people here in Germany hear about criminal cases in
the United States. So a few months ago, I was surprised to see news here in Germany
that Edgar Ray Killen, was convicted of manslaughter in a case, dealing with racism,
civil rights, the KKK and with injustice. Killen is an 80-year-old former Ku Klux
Klansman who was convicted on June 21, 2005 of murdering three civil rights workers
- in 1964, exactly 41 years after they disappeared. It was also interesting that
Killen’s sentence was to serve 41 years in prison, obviously for the rest
of his life.
When reading about Killen's conviction and sentence, a number of thoughts came
to my mind: How does the victim's family feel now? Are they able to find their
inner peace regarding their loss? What is going on in the mind of the jurors,
the lawyers and prosecutors and the judge who were involved in the case 41 years
ago? I had other questions about a statement in the Associated
Press report on the conviction at that time:
"The prosecutors had asked the jury to send a message to the rest
of the world that Mississippi has changed and is committed to bringing to justice
those who killed to preserve segregation in the 1960s."
Have these kinds of things really "changed" in State of
Mississippi? Have these issues really changed anywhere in the United States?
It is obvious that institutional racism is endemic in the United States, as
it is in many other countries. The Case of Thomas Miller-El reflects decision
on the part of the Supreme Court that appeared to offer some hope that blatant
racism in the judiciary has a fail-safe at the top:
On June 15, Worker's
World Newspaper reported on the decision:
"In a six-to-three decision on June 13, the U.S. Supreme Court sharply
rebuked Texas prosecutors as well as Texas appeals courts, ruling that their
excuses for racism in jury selection are unconstitutional." As a result,
"The conviction of Thomas Miller-El, an African American man sentenced
to death in Dallas in 1986, overturned. Now—after spending over 19 years
on death row—he will be granted a new trial."
However, that hope is swallowed up when one balances this one anti-racist decision
on the part of the Supreme Court against the plethora of race-based death penalty
convictions and executions with no reprieve at the federal level.
As a supporter for Death Row inmates and an opponent of the Death Penalty,
I obviously take great delight in the Supreme Court’s decision in the
Thomas Miller-El case. Likewise, I am please to read that Gov. Perry in Texas
signed new legislation in June, 2005 – Life without parole, particularly
as an alternative to the death penalty. On the governor’s
website we read:
"Gov. Rick Perry today signed Senate Bill 60, which gives juries in
capital murder cases the option of sentencing a defendant to life without the
possibility of parole."
However, those of us who demand complete abolition of the Death Penalty in
the United States will not rest until the barbaric state-killings in
the United States are stopped, finally and forever. As many of you know, Texas
and Florida have the largest death row populations and also have the highest
execution rates in the nation. At Axis of Logic, we do not view state executions
as merely a fault in the U.S. government. Rather, we view state executions as
an extension of the U.S.-led global corporate empire’s policies of racism
and oppression of the poor in many areas of life.
When the state assumes the right to take or give life to anyone, regardless
of their race, socio-economic status and even regardless of an individual’s
crimes, it is telling all of us that it holds ultimate authority to demand submission
by inflicting the ultimate punishment - the taking of any of our lives. Whether
through war machinery or the lethal injection table, we adamantly oppose the
practice of state killings as their means to reach their objective of totalitarian
rule. Most recently, we have witnessed what amounts to state homicide on the
gulf coast of the United States. Call it intentional - call it negligence -
Either way, it has become clear that the U.S. government did not give a damn
about the lives of its poor African American working class or poor whites, trapped
in the floodwaters, 10 feet below sea level when Hurricane Katrina stormed inland
off the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
At the Death
Penalty Information Center you will see that 18 people are currently scheduled
for execution in the next 3 months. Of all persons on the death rows of the
United states, 1432 are African American (41.7%); 1553 (45.5%) are white;
350 are Hispanic (10.4%); and 80 (2.3%) are described as "other".
Please note that only 13% of the U.S. population was African American according
to the 2002 U.S. Census
but almost half of the people sentenced to die in state death houses are black.
Some might try to defend these statistics by saying that African Americans are
more prone to commit murders. Such a defense is at bottom, fundamentally racist.
The fact is that there is no moral defense for this kind of disproportionate
application of the death penalty. We are opposed to the death penalty simply
because it is morally wrong in any case. But we are also opposed to it because
we know that it never has been and never will be applied equally across racial
lines. Also, you can be certain that the 1553 white prisoners on U.S. death
rows do not come from the wealthiest families in the United States. Why?
The United States may be 100 years or 100 hours from experiencing a revolution
that will bring about true justice in their society. We cannot know how long
it will be. But what we do know is that the U.S. appears to be nearing what
is sometimes called the "tipping point". The rest of the world stands
firmly against U.S. policies of war, occupation, colonization and their practice
of state executions. With growing the opposition of U.S. citizens to the U.S.-led,
racist, global corporate empire, we may be seeing the beginning of the end of
what will be the shortest-lived empire in world history. I understand that many
people in the United States will be confronting the government on September
24 for it's racist behaviors in its wars and its execution chambers. I hope
that you, the reader, will join them in Washington for this demonstration for
truth, justice and peace.
"Why must I have to stand here at this court with a white judge, a
white prosecutor to answer your questions? Why was I brought by a white guard
to this trial. Could you believe that there is justice in this atmosphere?"
- Nelson Mandela, 1962