Look at that black-and-white photograph of George Stinney.
I mean stop and really look at the face of that 14-year-old boy who was executed in the electric chair by the state of South Carolina in 1944. He’s your son, your grandson, your nephew. He’s also the youngest person in American history to have been sentenced to death and to have been executed.
His murder trial involving the death of two white girls was not transcribed. The entire trial lasted only two hours. George’s white court-appointed “lawyer” presented no defense despite the fact that there was no physical evidence tying his client to the crime. All the spectators were white because Blacks were not allowed in the courtroom. The jury members were all-white. Those jurors “deliberated” for just 10 minutes before finding George guilty after which the white judge immediately sentenced the boy to death.
Because he was so short, the jailers had the child sit on the Bible he was carrying so his body could reach up to the electric chair’s hanging mask. Stop and think about that for a minute.
The racist and classist so-called trial of George Stinney was such a nightmarish travesty that a South Carolina Circuit Court judge ultimately vacated his conviction and exonerated him — but the legal system waited 70 years to do so in 2014. As a result, that judge’s “too little, too late” ruling did absolutely nothing to save him after having been the victim of state-sanctioned premeditated murder.
Fast forward to 2019. At a news conference on July 16, progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced that his office the day before petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to declare the death penalty unconstitutional. And he said it was because such punishment is racist, classist and arbitrary. He’s right, you know.
He’s also right when he stated, “The most jaw-dropping statistic is that out of 155 Philadelphia death sentences [from 1978-2017], 72 percent ... have been overturned. What that means is that ... [previous prosecutors], before we got here ... argued for the execution of ... people and were wrong ... 72 percent of the time. And actually, it’s worse than that. Because those other 28 percent are not settled, you should expect that there will be even more of these that are overturned.”
And if you think he’s anti-death penalty because he’s some kind of “bleeding-heart liberal,” you obviously haven’t read last year’s legislative report entitled “Capital Punishment in Pennsylvania,” written by the bipartisan Joint State Government Commission led by four Task Force Members consisting of two Republicans.
That report cited, among other impeccable and objective sources, the 2003 Final Report of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System, which concluded the following:
“[T]here are strong indications that Pennsylvania’s capital justice system does not operate in an evenhanded manner ... [R]esearchers ... found that African-American defendants were sentenced to death at a significantly higher rate than similarly situated non-African-Americans; researchers further concluded that one-third of African Americans on death row in Philadelphia ... would have received life sentences if they were not African American. Race was also shown to be a major factor in capital jury selection, with the prosecution striking African Americans from the jury twice as often as non-African Americans.”
By the way, why do proponents of capital punishment even bother to deny its obvious racism and obvious classism? I guess they don’t know that about 98 percent of the chief district attorneys in death penalty states are white and only about 1 percent Black. And I also guess they don’t know that while the “impoverished” poor constitute approximately 15 percent of the country’s population, they are about 90 percent of the death row population?
Let’s start calling the death penalty/capital punishment exactly what it is: state-sanctioned premeditated murder. I call it that not because I’m into subjective hyperbole but because I’m into objective definitions. Since a governor approves these executions, they’re state-sanctioned. And since such killings are planned (i.e., scheduled well in advance) as well as unjustified (i.e., done in the absence of an imminent threat to life or limb) — especially when a deadly weapon (i.e., lethal injection or electric chair or gas chamber or hangman’s noose or firing squad) is used — they’re premeditated. Accordingly, just as you and I are not legally permitted to commit murder, premeditated or otherwise, neither should state governments be.
Here are the four irrefutable facts proving that the death penalty/capital punishment is always wrong:
1. It’s not a deterrent. If it was, why is it that the South, which has the highest murder rate in the country, also has the most death penalty executions at 80 percent, while the Northeast has the lowest murder rate but only one percent of the executions?
2. It’s not reasonable retribution. If it was, why do many, if not most, of the proponents constantly scream for revenge? Furthermore, aren’t we — i.e., the civilized members of society — better than the sociopath killers who kill to get their way? And isn’t the notion of killing killers to show that killing is wrong rather hypocritical?
3. It’s not really religiously mandated. If it was (at least by the three faiths with the most adherents), how does a believer justify the destruction of what God, Allah, Jehovah, etc., created? In other words, since we as humans can only procreate — and not create — how can the killing of the Creator’s creation be justified, particularly in light of the fact that such killing is not the result of the sort of on-the-spot deadly self-defense that is necessary in response to an imminent threat? And because the death penalty/capital punishment is not the result of such immediate self-defense, isn’t a state execution sinful for believers and unethical or immoral for non-believers?
4. It’s not really founded on (and shouldn’t be founded on) the notion of “an eye for an eye.” If it was, then why doesn’t society rob robbers or kidnap kidnappers? Even better, why doesn’t society rape rapists? Yeah, that’s it. In the very same way our tax dollars are used to pay a state employee to kill a convicted killer through lethal injection, why don’t we hire and pay a state employee to rape a convicted rapist through sexual penetration? Savage, you say? Barbaric, you say? Uncivilized, you say? Exactly, I say — just as savage and as barbaric and as uncivilized as the death penalty.
What’s the solution? That’s easy. Support the bipartisan “death penalty abolition” legislation drafted by primary sponsors State Representative Chris Rabb, a Democrat from Philly and State Representative Frank Ryan, a Republican from Lebanon County. For more info, call Representative Rabb’s district office at (215) 242-7300.