Racism in Session: Richard Cebull Presiding

Recently, Richard F. Cebull, chief Federal District Court Judge in the state of Montana, sent acquaintances an extremely crude racist, misogynist email that “joked” about US President Barack Obama’s mother having sex with a dog. After the email was exposed to the public, Cebull offered an apology to the President, acknowledging the joke was “racist” and that his dissemination of the joke lacked “judgment.” Of course, like most racist commentators, the judge claims it was the joke that was racist, not the joker. In a bizarre attempt at an excuse for relaying the email, Cebull justified his actions by noting he was not a “fan” of the President.

As many critics of Cebull have stated, the judge lacks sound judgment (some might say “intelligence”) and needs to resign immediately. His stunted cognitive abilities—intellect or judgment—appear on a number of levels. To begin, one must question the judge’s sense of humor. What does his racist and misogynist “humor” say about his acumen, values, and morality? It would appear that Cebull’s appreciation of de-humanizing and personally offensive sexist and racist humor poses serious questions about his ethical compass. Sending the insulting email via a government server—in the public domain—is another sign of Cebull’s contorted judgement and thus another factor disqualifying him from serving on the bench. And it goes without saying that he likely breeched the Judicial Code of Conduct as well as the boundaries of civil discourse. But enough of Cebull the racist commentator, what about the systemically racist justice system that is peopled with individuals like Cebull?

Tellingly, the commentary about ‘the Cebull Affair’ is focused solely on the performance of Cebull sending a racist email. To my knowledge, no one in the national press has addressed problems with the racist US legal (legal is more appropriate than justice) system that recruits, empowers and perpetuates rulers of the law like Cebull. No one in the mainstream media has commented about how Cebull’s actions are part of much larger problem with the US legal system, which remains inherently racist structurally, as illustrated by the numerous cases of police brutality, shoddy convictions and sentencing, and unequalized laws of a two-tier legal system: a system for whites and a system for people of color.

Not only has Cebull’s racist private backstage emerged in the public arena, the backstage of the racist US legal system has also emerged on the national stage, exposing a vivid empirical example of the dysfunctionality of the system when staffed with people like Cebull. The US legal system historically has granted racist-thinking commentators like Cebull great power and, problematically, continues to support these racist-minded legal power-brokers, even after they demonstrate poor judgment and unfair practices. In Cebull’s case, he revealed some biased and de-humanizing views of people of color and his shortage of judgment in regard to racist joking. And yet, despite his apparent disqualifications, he still holds his position of power in the legal system.

Cebull’s racism must be viewed as a reminder of the well-institutionalized systemic racism that pervades the US legal system. While certainly not everyone in the system exhibits Cebull’s racist “joking” inclinations, numerous individuals in the justice system repeatedly demonstrate racist perspectives and practices. Richard Cebull is merely one actor in a large social network of police officers, prosecutors, correctional officers, parole officers, social workers, politicians, policy makers, bounty hunters, and other judges whose ideas and actions uphold white-framed racism in the US legal system. Disconcertingly, the larger public tends to ignore or excuse the institutional, structural, and systemic racism in the US legal system, overlooking the discriminatory actions and thoughts of many actors who are employed to uphold “justice.” For example, ex-LA police officer, Mark Fuhrman, who referred to black Americans as “niggers,” now appears as a nationally syndicated pundit and legal expert commenting on high-profile criminal cases.

The many individuals working in the justice system who do not express racist views and behaviors are nonetheless—and often unknowingly—facilitators of a highly structured and complex racist legal system. This unjust legal system still looks to the US Constitution and the Bible as primary sources for laws and the foundational principals of the legal system, when the Bible and US Constitution were both documents used to justify and condone, morally and legally, the enslavement of blacks and colonization and mistreatment of other people of color. While the United States’ justice system no longer legitimates “slavery,” nor supports “colonization,” a new-day slavery and colonization operate in different guise.

Today, the ever-expanding, unchecked prison-industrial complex incarcerates disproportionate numbers of black and brown Americans. The heavy policing of communities of color, rampant racial profiling, disproportionate number of arrests, convictions, and periods of incarceration and other forms of legal supervision affecting people of color are all factors that have lead to the modern-day plantation system or prison system. Like the plantation, the prison forcefully confines people and exploits their labor. The prison industrial complex is interwoven with capitalism, with the privatization of prisons created profits for capitalists and debt for the tax paying public whose money goes to building and operating these institutions of oppression. (See Angela Davis’ “Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex”; Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness; and, Lawrence Bobo and Victor Thompson’s “Racialized Mass Incarceration: Poverty, Prejudice and Punishment”.

Along with the “racialized” mass incarceration of people of color, new racist laws have emerged in northern US state of Michigan that disenfranchise a large portion of the state’s black population. In response to budget crises related to the recent financial meltdown, Michigan cities and towns with large black communities were stripped of their basic democratic rights of political representation and decision-making. Town and city councils representing black communities have lost power of political decision-making and civic management of community affairs to outside “managers,” who were granted vast power to determine all policy decisions, government operations, and allocation of funds for the “at-risk”-labeled communities. Alarmingly, Michigan’s disenfranchisement of blacks is being echoed across the nation with a number of states establishing voter id laws, which disproportionately affect communities of color and the poor.

Down in the southern US, in Arizona, two high profile representatives of the US justice system have become noted national figures, social celebrities and politicized heroes for some, because of their racist ideas and actions. Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona established legislation that legally sanctioned racial profiling of Latino/a Americans. Despite national public uproar and condemnation by the US Justice Department, Brewer’s legislative act has not yet been overturned. To enforce Brewer’s legislation, there are “justice” officials like Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, a person who makes no excuses for his excessive racial profiling, arrests, and de-humanizing, humiliating treatment of undocumented Latino/a workers, or “illegal aliens” according to Arpaio (all incarcerated males are de-masculinized, forced to wear pink jump suits). Now, Arpaio is making news and expanding his legal “authority” to the national stage by questioning the authenticity of US President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

Arpaio, Cebull, Fuhrman, Brewer, and countless other members of the legal world (many exposed, many not) uphold a racist US legal system. With individuals like these, the term “justice” loses meaning and US citizens are left with a legal system that is flawed and presently unable to provide grounds for fair decision making and just legal action. Truth, right and wrong, and the basic rules on how to co-exist in society become hypocritical, arbitrary and baseless and laws that favor or disfavor select groups remain a mockery in such a tainted system. As critical race theorists and sociologists of race have observed, the US legal system was corrupted by racism from the start and remains routinely unjust toward people of color. (see Derrick Bell’s Race, Racism and American Law and Silent Covenants: Brown vs. the Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform; Joe Feagin’s Racist America: Roots, Current Realities and Future Reparations and Systemic Racism: A Theory of Racial Oppression; and, Ian Lopez’s White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race. Corrupt discriminatory laws and justice officials who abuse their position and power have created a cloud of meaninglessness and despair throughout the US legal system, a dysfunctional legal system that perpetually erodes its own legitimacy and purpose.

Considering what people of color endure in this society (namely, the long history and continuation of racial discrimination in employment, housing, education, politics, the media, and health care facing most people of color), the US legal system should serve as the one sanctified place where social justice and a fair playing field exist and are valued. However, today, as in the past, the US legal system fails to provide justice and fairness to people of color and the poor. Indeed, the system is blatantly divided along race as well as class lines. Piles of empirical evidence demonstrate year after year that people of color and the poor are not treated fairly within the US legal system; yet, obstacles to legal reform and the persistence and regeneration of racial and class injustice in the system are commonplace.

Those who attempt to revamp the legal system realize quickly that it is not neutral and objective but rather a structural mechanism of suppression created by those with power, resources, and connections. Conscious observers of the US legal system quickly discover that the system is rigged and that changing it—like attempting to change any powerful and well-embedded bureaucratic structure—appears a daunting task. The Cebull case reminds us that racism persists in the upper chambers of the legal system and, as the proceedings to remove Cebull will prove, that dysfunctionality of the system, and dysfunctional individuals managing the system, are not easily dismantled.

Bryan Stevenson: We need to talk about racial injustice

Bryan Stevenson is a public-interest lawyer who recently gave an inspiring TED Talk about racial injustice. Stevenson founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based group that has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive, unfair and racist sentencing. This is a rare TED Talk for confronting issues of racial injustice, and well worth watching (23:14):
Stevenson’s talk even includes an oh-so-gentle challenge to the audience at TED to “be more courageous” and talk about issues of racial injustice with more regularity. Yet, the online comments that follow the video quickly get mired in white-framed thinking, where one person derails the conversation away from racial injustice. Still, bravo to Bryan Stevenson for his work, and good for TED for including his talk at this elite venue.

New Freedom Riders Take on NYPD

Here in New York, people of good conscience are horrified by the practices of the NYPD that systematically target young African Americans and Latinos. Now, a courageous interracial group of activists is working to take on the NYPD’s racist practices (h/t @CarlaMurphy for this story).

Union Sq subway @ 1am
Creative Commons License photo credit: droolcup

In a recent piece at The American Prospect, Carla Murphy describes the burgeoning movement like this:

This February marks the first wave of trials for a loose-knit group of activists who have been arrested after responding to a call put out last fall by Princeton professor Cornel West and his longtime friend Carl Dix, a national spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party. Inspired by the nonviolent civil disobedience campaign of the Freedom Rides to draw attention to segregated interstate bus travel during the 1960s, West and Dix’s Stop Stop-and-Frisk campaign seeks to raise awareness of what they say is a racist policy that targets and criminalizes black and Latino men.

“We’re always hearing about post-racial America, but if you look at the criminal-justice system, you know that race is still with us,” says Derek Catsam, history professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and author of Freedom’s Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides.

It’s long past time for a coalition of activists to work on changing the stop-and-frisk policies of the NYPD.

The stop-and-frisk policies are notoriously racist in their implementation, if not their design. According to the NYCLU, only 10 percent of stops led to arrests, or even tickets. The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers stopped and frisked by the NYPD were engaged in no criminal wrongdoing.

Of those stopped in a given year, approximately 55 percent of the stops were of black people – more than double their percentage of the population – and 30 percent were of Latinos. Stops of whites amounted to only 2.6 percent of the stops.

Returning to Murphy’s piece, she raises the question of whether these protests will bring about actual change in the NYPD policy. But for onlookers along the march’s route through the South Bronx, though, public demonstrations on this issue matter a great deal—and so does the participation of whites. She writes:

Besides the kumbaya imagery of many races working together for racial justice and modeling the Freedom Riders’ integration ideal, there is a practical and strategic element to expanding the stop-and-frisk protesting ranks to whites.  Alicia Harrington, a 24-year-old African American Bronx resident, helps to plan Stop Stop and Frisk civil-disobedience demonstrations but has three months left on probation and worries about an arrest for protesting.

“A lot of young black and Latinos have prior convictions or are on parole, and it intimidates them from acting,” Dix says, admitting that the population most targeted by stop-and-frisk is also the least able to demonstrate against police brutality.

But, “as a white man,” says 29-year-old social worker Nick Malinowski, “I have the privilege of being able to get arrested for civil disobedience when other people might not.” Malinowski, who the last six months has organized five stop-and-frisk demonstrations in every borough except Staten Island, has one arrest for protesting.

I agree with Murphy that it’s not clear whether these protests will bring about real change.  But, the fact that they’re happening at all is very good news for social justice.


Documented Discrimination in Arpaio’s Arizona

Self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America,” Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio has made the news again for his treatment of undocumented immigrants in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. On December 15, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report that details unlawful and inhumane abuses carried out by Arpaio and his underlings against “illegals” between 2008 and the present. It details violations in community policing and in the County detention facilities. Below are some excerpts:

• Latino drivers are four to nine times more likely to be stopped than similarly situated non-Latino drivers.

• Our investigation uncovered a number of instances in which immigration-related crime suppression activities were initiated in the community after MCSO [Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office] received complaints that described no criminal activity, put rather referred, for instance, to individuals with “dark skin” congregating in one area, or individuals speaking Spanish at a local business.

• Individual accounts regarding MCSO deputies stopping Latinos on the basis of their appearance corroborate the use of discriminatory policing practices.

• MCSO detention officers discriminatorily punish Latino LEP [Limited English Proficient] inmates who fail to understand commands given in English by, for example, locking down their pods (which increases the risk of inmate-on-inmate violence), or imposing disciplinary segregation (solitary confinement).

• MCSO detention officers refuse to accept forms completed by Latino LEP inmates in Spanish. Such forms include tank orders, which enable inmates to request basic daily services, and grievance forms, which enable inmates to identify and address alleged mistreatment. Even in instances when Spanish language requests are accepted, Latino LEP inmates face delays in services for not submitting requests and grievance forms in English.

Arpaio is popular among (mostly white) voters not only in Arizona but also in the rest of the nation, to such extent that several GOP presidential candidates sought his endorsement, which he eventually gave to Rick Perry.

At first blush, it is hard to believe that these injustices were perpetrated so unabashedly, but when one remembers how “illegals” are so very negatively viewed in the dominant White Racial Frame, it makes perfect sense.

Anti-Immigrant Legislation and Private Prison Labor: A Modern Day Slavery

~ This is the last post of our three-part blog series on the criminalization of people of color and the private prison industry.

“The prison is like a rather disciplined barracks, a strict school, a dark workshop, but not qualitatively different” – Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (p. 233)

Patarei Prison
Creative Commons License photo credit: Toni Kaarttinen

Prisons have long served to keep individuals labeled “deviant” in America under constant surveillance. It is no secret that those labeled “deviant” are those that society keeps at the bottom: racial minorities. Today, that “deviant” label has increasingly been applied to immigrants from Central and South America. Thus, we can see that these groups are especially vulnerable to the detainment and abuse by private prisons in the US today. How have private prisons capitalized on the criminalization of immigrants?

First, the passage and enforcement of anti-immigration laws (such as Operation Streamline [pdf]) have correlated with the expansion of private prisons. These results can especially be seen in the state of Texas. According to the Grassroots Leadership report, “Operation Streamline: Drowning Justice and Draining Dollars along the Rio Grande,” the number of immigrants sentenced to prison for crossing the Mexico/Texas border without authorization in two districts grew from 2,770 in 2002 to 44,517 in 2009.

Creative Commons License photo credit: i like jade plants

“The expanded criminal and civil immigration detention system has been a huge financial boon to private prison corporations, such as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) and Management and Training Corporation (MTC)” according to the report. Texas is not alone in criminalizing and incarcerating immigrants, the state of Arizona (on the heels of its controversial SB1070 anti-immigrant legislation) announced in early 2011 a request for proposals for a 5000-bed private prison. It should come then as no surprise that CCA was a key architect and proponent of SB1070, as NPR and Racism Review reported on earlier this year. Private prison corporations stand to gain hundreds of millions of dollars from laws such as this.

A private prison serves as a third party contracted by government agencies to detain prisoners. Private prison corporations enter contractual agreements with governments that commit prisoners and pay private prison corporations a per diem or monthly rate for each prisoner confined in the facility. Private prison corporations profit from mass incarceration that targets racial and ethnic minorities, and increasingly, undocumented immigrants. In addition to being paid by the state to hold prisoners, private prisons profit from using those prisoners in turn as laborers.

While work is not a mandatory discipline within all private prisons, it is a discipline that is highly incentivized. Private prisons use discipline to control, manipulate and subject their prisoners and turning them into machines or “docile bodies” that will give them cheap labor. Every day, these prisoners work to process food, produce brooms, sew clothing, wire technical items, etc. Prisoners are paid between $0.23 and $4.73 per day while at the same time, it costs these inmates $5 A MINUTE to make a phone call in private prisons (see also, Think Progress article on this).

Death Row
Creative Commons License photo credit: Melody Kramer

Labor within private prisons is clearly not used for the transformation and rehabilitation of these inmates into constructive members of society. Mass incarceration, that has expanded with the passing of anti-immigrant laws, increased with the development of private prisons has resulted in the incarceration of over 2.3 million people, who are now working for a twisted and corrupt economy. Those familiar with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow book can certainly help argue that these inmates are essentially modern-day slaves of the 21st century; they are being exploited and used by a system that not only refuses to help them, but aims to keep them incarcerated for the purpose of creating a profit.


  1. How has anti-immigrant legislation helped shape the face of state-sanctioned private prison “modern” slavery or indentured servitude?
  2. How can we work to end private prisons’ ability to exploit anti-immigration sentiment and legislation for profit?

~ *We are a group of four sociology students studying critical theories of race and racism in Danielle Dirks’ “Contemporary Sociological Theory” undergraduate course at Occidental College. Please read and feel free to comment or ask questions. Thank you for your time!

Prison Privatization and Youth of Color: What Are The Implications?

~ This is the second post of a three-part blog series on the criminalization of people of color and the private prison industry by students at Occidental College.

Society’s View on Privatizing Juvenile Facilities

Whether the industry explicitly says it benefits from the school-to-prison pipeline or not, its recent development of juvenile facilities speaks to its motives. By creating juvenile facilities, the industry has a wide range of ages to fill their facilities. Many do not recognize the implications of privatizing juvenile facilities, mainly because mainstream media does not provide viewers with this information. In the “Kids for Cash” scandal, the media hardly addressed the thousands of lives destroyed by privatization; instead, it focused on the judges’ actions and their impending prison sentences. In addition, it did not at all address the owners of the private juvenile facilities who initially bribed the judges. Not surprisingly, the facilities involved are still fully operating.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Gaffke Photography v2.8

Society’s View of Youth of Color and their Respective Marginalization

When pushing children into the school-to-prison pipeline, many are aware of the pipeline’s racial disparities, yet are oblivious to the damaging effects it has on youth and their families. Many do not recognize that these children are reacting to the “shame” they feel from being labeled as “criminal.” Instead, people view these youth as “criminals” and endorse their harsh punishment. The private prison industry uses this knowledge to its advantage, realizing that youth are vulnerable and do not have the power to voice their disadvantage.

The William Porter Reformatory
Creative Commons License photo credit: mallix

In his book, Youth in a Suspect Society, Henry Giroux states:

The disparaging view of young people has promulgated the rise of a punishing and (in) security industry whose discourses, technologies, and practices have become visible across a wide range of spaces and institutions (p. 73).

This view of young people is reflected in both the motives and the actions of the private prison industry. As exemplified in the “Kids for Cash” scandal, children are being seen as commodities. And these actions are being justified by a society who is exposed to racialized and criminalized images of minority youth presented by the media, making some fear these youth, believing their “misbehavior” is dangerous and that harsh “punishment” is the only solution. This fear is thus reflected in laws intended to marginalize youth of color. Rios explains that these children are being “systematically denied” their “positive rite,” which is defined as the “universal human need to be perceived by others in a positive light, with consideration instead of degradation” (p. 58). Although it may be difficult for youth to achieve this recognition in today’s racialized social system, reflecting on the connection between the school-to-prison pipeline and private juvenile facilities should make people question the knowledge and motives of the corporations behind their construction.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is the private prison industry capitalizing on society’s “fear” of minority youth? In other words, how does the media’s presentation of racialized images directly benefit the private prison industry?
  2. What would the prison system look like if these youth were granted their “positive rite?” How can you help them achieve this consideration?

~ *We are a group of four sociology students studying critical theories of race and racism in Danielle Dirks’ “Contemporary Sociological Theory” undergraduate course at Occidental College. Please read and feel free to comment or ask questions. Thank you for your time!

Youth of Color, the School-to-Prison Pipeline and the Private Prison Industry

If the notion of punishment as a source of potentially stupendous profits is disturbing by itself, then the strategic dependence on racist structures and ideologies to render mass punishment palatable and profitable is even more troubling. – Angela Davis, “Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex”

There are many ways for the private prison industry to create a profit. To maintain this profit, this industry relies on continuous mass incarceration. Recently, the industry has developed for-profit juvenile facilities that target vulnerable youth, especially youth of color, in an effort to expand their business. This question arose when researching the development of these juvenile facilities: what does privatization look like with the school-to-prison pipeline? In other words, could the private prison industry be directly or indirectly benefiting from the school-to-prison pipeline?

(Creative Commons License photo credit: ec.kane )

Kids for Cash

The “Kids for Cash” scandal serves as a perfect example of the industry directly benefiting from the school-to-prison pipeline, as children were directly routed from their schools into privatized facilities. In 2009, two corrupt judges from Pennsylvania were charged with accepting over $2.6 million in “kickbacks” from private juvenile facilities. From 2003 to 2008, these judges found over 4,000 juveniles guilty, many of whom did not have legal representation, and were sent to one or both of the facilities that were involved in the scandal. This scheme exemplifies how privatizing prisons, specifically juvenile detention centers, plays a direct role in pushing children into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Judges Conahan and Ciavarella

School-to-Prison Pipeline: Racializing “Misbehavior” and “Punishment” in Schools

The private prison industry could also indirectly benefit from policies and practices created to drive youth, specifically youth of color, into the school-to-prison pipeline. This pipeline begins mostly in inner-city schools, when children are harshly punished for “misbehavior.” In this context, the word “misbehavior” has been socially constructed as a “racialized” term, meaning youth of color receive harsher punishments than their white counterparts. According to the ACLU, for example, “African-American students are far more likely than their white peers to be suspended, expelled, or arrested for the same kind of conduct at school.” In addition, the “punishment” in response to this misbehavior has been socially constructed and “racialized.” For example, “In 2003, African-American youth made up 16% of the nation’s overall juvenile population, but accounted for 45% of juvenile arrests,” even though, “there is no evidence that students of color misbehave to a greater degree than white students.” The punishment for this misbehavior is often expulsion, leaving these youth on the streets, usually without supervision and structure.

Kind of Like School
( Creative Commons License photo credit: cogdogblog )

School-to-Prison Pipeline: Criminalizing Youth of Color in the Streets

Exposure in the streets and being criminalized by the police is the next phase of the school-to-prison pipeline. In his book, Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, Victor Rios argues that in these circumstances, youth of color become engaged in “play”—“the seeking of personal enjoyment despite their detrimental circumstances”—rather than work, which has since been criminalized and used as a tool to mass incarcerate youth of color (p. 76). When labeled as “criminals” by school faculty, the police, and even their own families, these youths begin to internalize this label and act upon it. Rios reinforces this concept in his presentation of juvenile crime research: “Being shamed and feeling stigmatized often leads young people into crime” (p. 58). The racialized constructions of misbehavior and punishment and the resulting criminalization indirectly benefit the private prison industry, as these juveniles may be sent to private facilities. The populations of these facilities have also been racialized: in Mississippi’s Walnut Grove facility, for example, 90% of its inhabitants are African American men. Although there is no research that directly connects the school-to-prison pipeline and the private prison industry, the deconstruction of the pipeline shows how the industry could be benefiting from these disciplinary actions, which are mainly targeted toward youth of color.

march 2011 8464
(Creative Commons License photo credit: bpbailey )

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it correct to build private juvenile detention facilities, as they will likely always target vulnerable youth to maintain their populations and to create a profit?
  2. If there were no for-profit juvenile facilities, would there still be incentive to mass incarcerate youth of color?
  3. Who else, aside from the prison industrial complex, is benefiting from incarcerating youth of color? (We will begin to address this question in our next blog post)
~ *This post is from one of four sociology students studying critical theories of race and racism in Danielle Dirks’ “Contemporary Sociological Theory” undergraduate course at Occidental College. This is the first post of our three-part blog series on the criminalization of people of color and the private prison industry. Please read and feel free to comment or ask questions. Thank you for your time!

The Death Penalty, Racism and the American Practice of Lynching

“A man was lynched yesterday” read the banner that flew outside the NAACP headquarters at 69 Fifth Avenue in 1938. Some 73 years later, such a banner is still relevant as the American practice of lynching continues in ways new and old in the 21st century.

(Image source: Library of Congress, NAACP)

On Wednesday, in what the typically reserved New York Times called “a grievous wrong,” the State of Georgia executed Troy Anthony Davis at 11:08 pmAlbert Camus observed that “capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders,” and that was never more true than this week when Georgia proceeded with the killing of Mr. Davis in spite of serious doubts about his guilt and in spite of national and international media attention about the case, and an outcry from various celebrities and luminaries including President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI. Much of the outrage is that there was simply too much doubt (as the Twitter hashtag #toomuchdoubt suggested) about Davis’ guilt. There was no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime for which he was convicted, and 7 of the 9 witnesses recanted their testimony. If Georgia ends up exonerating Davis, it wouldn’t be the first time that state later recanted it’s prosecution of an African American accused of killing a white person, but it may take awhile.  Sixty years after Lena Baker, an African American woman, was convicted – and executed – for killing a white man, the State of Georgia exonerated her.

The other part of the outrage about this case has to do with the systemic racism of the death penalty: Davis was African American and the victim in this case, Mark MacPhail, was white (and an off-duty cop).  Some have even referred to the execution of Davis as a “legal lynching,” an especially ironic phrase given that the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which refused to stay the execution with no dissents from the bench, not even from Justice Thomas, who once claimed to be a victim of “high-tech lynching” because of Anita Hill’s charges of sexual harassment.  But, perhaps this is just hyperbole. What is lynching?  Is there any evidence that links the American practice of lynching to the death penalty?

Continue reading…

Troy Davis Case Highlights Racist Death Penalty: Take Action to Stop His Execution

Nearly twenty years ago, Troy Davis (who is black) was tried and convicted of killing a white police officer. Today, nearly all the so-called “witnesses” have said that they lied and Davis is, most likely, an innocent man. Yet, the State of Georgia has scheduled his execution for September 21. The fact is, capital punishment doesn’t work as a way to lower crime rates. And, the death penalty, both in the U.S. and around the world, is discriminatory and is used disproportionately against the poor, and black and brown people. When victims are white (as in this case, where the victim was a white police officer), those trials are much more likely to end in the death penalty. Troy Davis’ case is just the most prominent example of this egregious pattern of state-sponsored racism, a pattern that is not unique to Georgia. This short video (7:18) by Jen Marlow describes some of the discrepancies in the case and includes an interview with Mr. Davis’ sister:

If you’re moved, as I was, by this injustice, I urge you to sign the petition to stop the execution of Troy Davis, here.