Posted by: slcsaunders | September 22, 2011

We Interrupt This Program…

Pardon the interruption… I like to keep the blog as light-hearted as possible, but sometimes the socio-political climate calls for a more serious tone. I’m sure you’ve been following, or at least have heard, of Troy Davis – his case, and ultimately, his execution. While I’m not addressing his guilt or innocence, and while I’m not here to wax political, I do think it’s important to say something.

The death penalty in America is fraught with complications, not the least of which is racial disparity. The fact is that since 1977, the overwhelming majority of death row defendants have been executed for killing white victims – despite the fact that blacks make up approximately one-half of all homicide victims.

In a 1990 report, the non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office found “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty.” The study concluded that a defendant was several times more likely to be sentenced to death if the murder victim was white. This has been confirmed by the findings of many other studies that, holding all other factors constant, the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim.

“We simply cannot say we live in a country that offers equal justice to all Americans when racial disparities plague the system by which our society imposes the ultimate punishment.” –Senator Russ Feingold

As a sociology major in undergrad, and a white law school graduate of a historically black university, I could go on and on about race and the judicial system. To some people it’s not important, to some it’s of paramount importance. What I think is universally important is the fact that innocent people (and again, I’m not addressing Mr. Davis’ guilt or innocence specifically) are being executed in this country. I’ve counted no less than 135 people who were found guilty of capital crimes and placed on death row who were later found to be wrongly convicted (some were exonerated posthumously). In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row.

This isn’t to say that I don’t grapple with the issue myself. Just yesterday, on the same day of Troy Davis’ execution, Lawrence Russell Brewer, a white supremecist, was executed in Texas. You’ll remember him as one of three men convicted in the dragging death of James Byrd, who was chained by the ankles with a logging chain to the back of a pickup truck and dragged for 3½ miles down a country road near Jasper, Texas before he was decapitated after he hit a culvert. As one of the most vicious hate crimes in US history – essentially a modern-day lynching – it’s hard to sympathize with Mr. Brewer, who as recently as July, said: “I know in my heart I participated in assaulting him but I had nothing to do with the killing as far as dragging him or driving the truck or anything. I have no regrets. I’d do it all over again to tell you the truth.”

But the fact of the matter is, you can’t be on both sides of this fence – you can’t feel strongly both ways. Ultimately I guess the bottom line for me is that I can’t accept the concept of executing even one innocent person. I can’t accept that there may still be some doubt when we prepare to execute an inmate. And so until the practice can eliminate the possibility that innoncent people are being executed, even though it means people like Mr. Brewer would still be alive, I can’t support it. And even IF someday we perfect this system, I can’t say I’ll support it then. I’ll make that decision when and if the time comes.

For today, RIP Officer MacPhail. RIP Mr. Davis.

Here’s one thing I know for sure: no justice, no peace. know justice, know peace.

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