“You will find a blacker world on death row than anywhere else.”
Of the roughly 3200 human beings currently languishing on death row all across god’s country, some are guilty, some innocent, some mentally disabled—but all await a grisly, taxpayer-subsidized death. Thankfully, the man quoted above is no longer one of them.
For those not familiar with his story, Mumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther who has been in prison since 1981 for allegedly shooting Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. As his official Facebook page explains, “Despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence, prosecutorial misconduct, constitutional violations in his trial, police coercion of witnesses and documented racism, he (was placed) on death row in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. He is known as the ‘Voice of the Voiceless‘ for his award-winning reporting on police brutality and other social and racial epidemics that plague communities of color in Philadelphia and throughout the world.”
Mumia sez: “The ruling, wealthy class built prisons and courts to protect them and their wealth from the masses. They also built the ideological illusion of classlessness, which is maintained through their media. They brayed about freedom, while erecting the most massive prison complex (the prison-industrial-complex) this earth has ever seen. The built Prison Nation.”
Although Mumia’s death sentence was recently “reduced” to “life” in prison, the death penalty stands as a particularly malicious example of how the 1% in America attempts to maintain control. This sadistic and racist institution remains in effect in 34 states—plus the US government and military. California has the highest number of death row inmates but the state that’s executed the most prisoners since 1976 is (wait for it…) Texas.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why?
The most common justification for capital punishment is deterrence. The 1% tells us that fear of losing one’s life will deter humans from taking another’s life.
Nancy Reagan sez: “I think people would be alive today if there were a death penalty.”
Contrary to Ms. Reagan’s sage analysis, there is no conclusive evidence that even an electric chair that burns a prisoner alive serves as a deterrent. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC):
“Consistent with previous years, the 2010 FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that the South had the highest murder rate. The South accounts for over 80% of executions. The Northeast, which has less than 1% of all executions, tied with the West for the lowest murder rate.”
“Deterrence?” asks Abu-Jamal in his book, Live from Death Row. “The March 1988 execution of Willie Darden in Florida, exceedingly well-publicized here and abroad, should have had enormous deterrent effect, according to capital theories. But less than eleven hours after two thousand volts coursed through Darden’s manacled flesh, a Florida corrections officer, well positioned to absorb and understand the lessons of the state ritual, erupted in a jealous rage and murdered a man in the maternity wing of a hospital. Seems like a lesson well learned to me.”
And for whom is this “lesson” usually geared? More from the DPIC: “Over 75% of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution were white, even though nationally only 50% of murder victims generally are white.”
Let’s break it down further: 44% of the US death row population is African-American, an ethnic group that constitutes a mere 12.6% of the nation’s people as a whole. From this statistic, we can draw only one of two conclusions:
- Blacks are genetically predisposed towards homicide
- The US justice system is inherently racist
Ralph Nader sez: “Since I was a law student, I have been against the death penalty. It does not deter. It is severely discriminatory against minorities, especially since they’re given no competent legal counsel defense in many cases. It’s a system that has to be perfect. You cannot execute one innocent person. No system is perfect. And to top it off, for those of you who are interested in the economics it, it costs more to pursue a capital case toward execution than it does to have full life imprisonment without parole.”
Which brings us to a second rationale for state-sponsored murder—one that could only exist in a society indoctrinated to accept predatory capitalism as a viable option: cost. In purely dispassionate financial terms, supporters claim that an execution is cheaper than long-term incarceration.
Study after study has proven this to be a convenient myth. For example, in 2005, the Los Angeles Times reported that the California death penalty system—the largest in the nation—costs taxpayers “$114 million per year beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life. Taxpayers have paid more than $250 million for each of the state’s executions.”
Other sources have reported similar findings in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland. Hence, even if some insist on putting a price tag on life itself, it still falls short as a justification for capital punishment.
Noam Chomsky sez: “The death penalty can be tolerated only by extreme statist reactionaries who demand a state that is so powerful that it has the right to kill.”
Finally, we have the retribution crowd. “An eye for an eye,” they bellow, parroting the best homicidal traditions of the Old Testament. But this philosophy is neither just nor “spiritual.”
We do not rape the rapist nor do we burn down the house of the arsonist, why then do we murder the man or woman charged with taking a life?
“Let the punishment fit the crime,” is the rallying cry used as an answer. Yet, if this is truly our idea of justice, we are obviously living in a society that is not held to a higher standard than that of its “worst” criminals—a State that is no better than the murderer it chooses to punish.
Albert Camus sez: “Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders.”
Returning to the Nader quote, “You cannot execute one innocent person.” But as the DPIC explains: “Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. From 1973-1999, there was an average of 3.1 exonerations per year. From 2000-2007, there has been an average of 5 exonerations per year.”
Amnesty International has listed some of the many actors leading to wrongful convictions:
- Inadequate legal representation
- Police and prosecutorial misconduct
- Perjured testimony and mistaken eyewitness testimony
- Racial prejudice
- Jailhouse “snitch” testimony
- Suppression and/or misinterpretation of mitigating evidence
- Community/political pressure to solve a case
Desmond Tutu sez: “To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice.”
Justice…the ideal segue back to Mumia and the current surge of activism.
Mumia sez: “You are the central movement of the hour. You’re raising questions that are in the hearts of millions … Your work, however, is just beginning. You must deepen, strengthen, and further your work until it truly reaches the 99%, almost all of us: workers, black folk, Latinos and Latinas, LGBTs, immigrants, Asians, artists, all of us, for we are integral parts of the 99%. I salute you and hope fervently that you will grow beyond number.”
Abu-Jamal, of course, is speaking in support of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. For more than three months now, OWS has been shifting the global conversation and three decades of incarceration obviously haven’t hindered Abu-Jamal’s ability to recognize the planet’s last best chance for enduring social change. As he’s famously declared: “Many people say it is insane to resist the system, but actually, it is insane not to.”
If you feel righteous outrage at the biased and illegitimate practice of capital punishment, it’s time to occupy
If you can envision a culture in which holistic justice is the guiding principle, it’s time to occupy.
We are the 99%. Expect us. Join us…
#De-OccupyTheDeathPenalty. #Occupy4Mumia. #Occupy4HolisticJustice.
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