THE DEATH PENALTY IS A BLACK AND WHITE ISSUE

piano

Just like on a piano where the black keys are in the minority, so, too, in American life our black citizens are in the minority.

And just like on a piano where it is difficult, if not impossible, to play a full and satisfying musical piece in full harmony without the black keys so, too, in American life we cannot have true harmony without our black citizens.

Few pianists, except as a stunt, ever try to play the piano without fully integrating the black keys. In American life, however, far too many of our “white keys” have total disdain for the black ones and feel they can get along perfectly well without them. Not only that but they also feel they have to abuse the black keys which, in effect, create a maelstrom of irrational and totally harmful human behavior in contrast to the discordant and irritating note emanating from the misplayed piano.

Nowhere is this as destructive, offensive, and horrifying as in the American system of (In)Justice, particularly in the application of the death penalty.

Now my position on that abhorrence is that capital punishment is so wrong in and of itself no matter whom is subjected to it that even some aggravating factors are not absolutely necessary to the conversation.

But, were there even to be a persuasive rationale to utilize that method of punishment at all, certainly there are cases in which racial prejudice plays such an undeniable role that, no matter how heinous the crime, sentencing the defendant to this fate is equally heinous as it results from racial hatred, not the evidence at hand.

After reading this article by Marc Bookman, a death penalty lawyer and head of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation in Philadelphia, I trust you will find it difficult to disagree with me.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/03/fults-death-penalty-racism?page=1

In That’s What that Nigger Deserved in Mother Jones Bookman puts the spotlight on Georgia and provides examples of where death sentences there seem to have been driven as much by racial bias as by the combination of aggravating and mitigating factors that are mandated by states to be weighed by jurors to arrive at a sentence in a murder case.

In 1997 Kenneth Fults was sentenced to death for murdering his neighbor, Cathy Bounds, in Spalding County, Georgia. In April 2005

one of the trial jurors made a startling admission under oath: He’d voted for the death penalty, he said, because “that’s what that nigger deserved”.

Spalding County is a small County south of Atlanta with but a single Public Defender. For Fults that defender was one Johnny Mostiler, a flamboyant though apparently very capable personage of an attorney. But in a rural southern area a black man on trial for his life might desire his defense counsel were other than someone who drew this recollection from a fellow attorney.

I recall one occasion when I was in the lawyer’s lounge at the Spalding County Courthouse. There were a number of other lawyers there including Mr. Mostiler. Mr. Mostiler began telling racist jokes filled with racial epithets like “nigger.” Some of the lawyers would laugh. Some would laugh nervously. Some would try to ignore it. And others would leave the room to get away from it. On another occasion, I remember walking into the lawyer’s lounge and Mr. Mostiler was again telling racist jokes. Ms. Nancy Bradford, who is now deceased, looked at me, noticed that it was making me uncomfortable, and told me “that’s just Johnny.”

Ain’t that just dandy! Facing a biased juror (or jurors) with your equally biased defense lawyer. Should we ask how quickly can you kiss your ass goodbye?

Not only did Mostiler appear to be racially biased but, as in many small counties, the relationship between the prosecutor, the defense bar, and the Bench can be nigh on incestuous, as Bookman relates.

But the writer gives ample evidence of how race has infused death penalty cases and how the judiciary has pretty much ignored that fact when it comes to appeals. But in addition to the racial aspects not gaining the necessary consideration in appeals Bookman further remarks

The prevailing narrative about legal technicalities, thanks to Hollywood portrayals and posturing politicians, is that they open jailhouse doors—which is one reason crime sometimes seems to be on the rise when in fact it is plummeting. In reality, though, legal technicalities are far more often used to preclude people from having their postconviction claims heard. The Fults opinion, written by the outspoken Judge Jordan, is a virtual primer on how the law has evolved to block, rather than illuminate, allegations of injustice.

Time for Fults is running out. (let me emphasize that the controversy is over his sentence, not his guilt) The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied his plea though he does have a remaining shot at the Supreme Court. But its sympathies in this are have been spectacularly callous in the past do an ominous precedent has been set. Too, Fults presents as possibly mentally retarded but Georgia has indicated its refusal to recognize such personal infirmities as a reason to not execute just this past January when Warren Hill was killed.

So Fults, like Hill, faces the double whammy of black and mental deficiency whereas one makes him more vulnerable to a death sentence in the first place but, despite prior court rulings, the infirmity does not insulate him from that sentence being carried out.

If you’re looking for more another reason to end capital punishment, it is all there in black and white.

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