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Georgia Wants to Execute Warren Hill and Violate the Constitution

By: David A. Love Monday July 23, 2012 5:36 am

Georgia is about to execute a mentally disabled man in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

A Black man strapped into a mock electric chair at a death penalty protest.

Death Penalty Protest (Photo: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty)

Unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, the state of Georgia will execute a man that everyone agrees is mentally retarded.  A state court determined that a decade ago.  The execution would violate the U.S. Constitution if carried out, but apparently that standard is not good enough for the Peach State.

Warren Lee Hill, Jr., who has an I.Q. of 70, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on July 23.  His original execution date of July 18 was postponed due to changes in the state’s execution drug protocol.  Georgia, which once used a three-drug cocktail, has opted for a single drug dosage of pentobarbital—a sedative used to put down dogs and cats that has been banned for export by the European Union.

On July 18, Texas used pentobarbital to execute Yokamon Hearn.  Hearn was a mentally impaired man who, according to his defense, suffered mental impairments due to his mother’s prenatal drinking, and abuse from his parents.

In his order denying relief to Hill, Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Wilson wrote that Hill meets the criteria of mental retardation by a preponderance of the evidence.  In Atkins v. Virginia,the Supreme Court  mandated the states to protect people with mental retardation because there is a “special risk of wrongful execution” because of their disabilities.

Writing for the majority in Atkins, Justice Stevens opined that the mentally disabled should not be executed because it provides no deterrent effect, and that such offenders are not culpable to deserve such a form of retribution.  He added that with reduced capacity, mentally retarded defendants face a risk of wrongful conviction. They are poor witnesses, may give less meaningful assistance to their lawyers, and their demeanor may give an impression that they lack remorse.

Are Corporations People Who Kill People?

By: David A. Love Thursday March 1, 2012 7:18 am

Can corporations be sued in U.S. courts for violations of international human rights law? This week, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case that may have a profound impact on corporate accountability and human rights in this country.

The case is Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., and the plaintiffs allege that Shell Oil was complicit in human rights abuses in the Ogoni region of Nigeria. Specially, they say that the oil giant worked with that country’s then-military dictatorship in the early 90s to detain, torture and, by way of a trial in a kangaroo court, executed nine Ogoni activists who protested the company’s desecration of the Niger River delta.

The plaintiffs invoke the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 (ATS), which allows foreigners that do business in the U.S. to be held accountable for international human rights crimes they commit in other countries. Plaintiffs in the companion case, Mohammad v. Palestinian Authority, have sued under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, which allows for civil suits in the U.S. for torture and extrajudicial killings committed by officials in a foreign nation.

Kiobel brings together the subject of the rape of Africa and its people with and notions of corporate personhood. On the one hand, it seems fitting that a seminal human rights case would implicate brutal, corrupt Third World dictators and their corporate puppet masters. The whole thing conjures up images from one of the late Fela Kuti’s songs, “I.T.T.,” which stands for “International Thief Thief.” “Many foreign companies dey Africa carry all our money go,” Fela said:

Them go dey cause confusion (Confusion!)

Cause corruption (Corruption!)

Cause oppression (Oppression!)

Cause inflation (Inflation!)

Oppression, oppression, inflation

Corruption, oppression, inflation

Them get one style wey them dey use

Them go pick one African man

A man with low mentality

Them go give am million naira breads

To become of high position here

Him go bribe some thousand naira bread

To become one useless chief

Corporations ruin the land, wreck the environment and prop up petty dictators that will allow them to do it. And people of the developing world are exploited and murdered in the process. On the other hand, while corporations want us to believe that they are people too, they don’t want any of the responsibilities that come with it. The Supreme Court has come out in favor of corporate personhood. Moreover, theCitizens United decision has sanctioned the corruption of democracy and the buying of elections by the 1 percent of the 1 percent – the wealthy few running roughshod over the rights of the many, all in the name of so-called free speech.

The lower court in Kiobel sided with Big Oil. Opponents of corporate liability claim that this Alien Tort Statute case will drive corporations from less developed countries, make American businesses uncompetitive because their competitors are beyond the reach of the law, and deter foreign investment in the U.S. by corporations that want to avoid U.S. courts.

“Holding corporations liable for human rights violations is fully consistent with international law. At the heart of this case is the value we attach to the idea of the rule of law, an idea expressed in the following simple statement: ‘Be you never so high, the law is above you.’” said Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in an amicus brief to the high court in this case.

“The battle for subjecting human rights violators to the rule of international law has been fought and won against natural persons, groups, organizations and States. On a proper understanding of contemporary international law, corporations are also subject to the rule of law on the international plane, in which they ubiquitously operate. Under that law, they are accountable for human rights violations. In particular, corporations are not immune from responsibility under international law if they engage in, or are complicit in, conduct amounting to international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes,” Pillay added.

According to Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz, recognizing corporate liability under the Alien Tort Statute is a matter of economic efficiency. “[I]t is now well-recognized that in a modern economy, the provision of appropriate incentives (to avoid injury to others) must extend beyond the imposition of liability to the person who commits the injury. In particular, corporations must be provided with incentives to discourage and deter their employees from engaging in such potentially harmful acts and to develop monitoring systems that ensure compliance with corporate policies.”

Stiglitz argues that corporations are best situated to effectively monitor harmful activity at a minimal cost. Further, given the limited resources of individual persons as opposed to their corporate employers, a system that imposes liability solely on individuals would be weak and ineffective.

“Furthermore, recognition of corporate liability would demonstrate commitment to a variety of widely shared principles and morals,” Stiglitz adds. “The liability imposed by the ATS reflects norms of human rights endorsed by international law. TheUnited States values, and benefits from, the existence of such international norms. And the enforcement of these norms by the United States confirms and promotes their universality.”

For an often outdated U.S. Constitution which grants rights only sparingly – and hasfallen out of favor in the world as a casualty to far superior human rights documents in Canada, South Africa and elsewhere – the Alien Tort Statute may well prove our saving grace. When corporations violate the laws of nations by torturing and killing people, the U.S provides a human rights mechanism to address it. But whether a corporation-friendly majority on the Supreme Court sees things the same way, well, that remains to be seen.

The White Working Class was Bamboozled

By: David A. Love Monday February 27, 2012 8:49 am

Originally, this was to be a commentary on the plight of the white middle class, but that demographic no longer exists in America.  So, let’s talk about the swindling of the white working class.

And although it has all come to a head in the past few years, it is a story that is years in the making.  If Stockholm Syndrome relates to the feeling of empathy that kidnap victims have with their captors, then certainly what we are witnessing today is a Stockholm Syndrome of those on the losing end of American capitalism.

To single out white working people is not to assume that others are immune from identifying with those who would exploit them financially – their own economic kidnappers, if you will.  At the same time, it was white working folks who made a deal with the devil a long time ago.  And now they’ve been sent the invoice from that Faustian bargain.  Allow me to explain.

American capitalism has promoted the mythology of the “American Dream,” the notion that everyone has a chance to get rich.  In pursuit of that dream, poor and working white Americans chose their enemy years ago.  They made a conscious decision to side with the “1 percenters” whose feet were firmly placed on their neck, rather than with similarly situated black and brown common folk.  They decided it was those of a darker hue whose progress stood in the way of their own movement up the ladder.

Generation after generation, they fought and died in wars, someone else’s beef, designed to protect the interests of the 1 percent.

They opposed social programs that had any chance of helping blacks, even if they stood to benefit from the programs themselves.  And ultimately they failed to join forces with workers of color to build a strong labor movement.  As a result of that fatal decision, the jobs moved offshore to where the labor costs were cheapest.  Chinese slave laborers are now making our iPhones, iPads, X-Boxes and other toys, and now even Chinese workers are becoming too expensive.

The most impoverished European immigrant had neither a pot nor a window to throw it out of.  But at least he or she was not black, and thus could be considered a real American.  Though poor whites had far more in common with their poor black-, Latino-, Asian- and Native-American counterparts than with some Wall Street banker or fat cat industrialist, nonetheless they viewed racial minority groups and others as the enemy.  That’s how scapegoats are created.

So, the blame is not placed where it should, which is the über-wealthy sucking the lifeblood out of democracy.  Rather the problem is identified as affirmative action, or welfare queens, or undocumented Mexican immigrants.  Solutions to the nation’s woes are offered in the form of mass incarceration and the death penalty.  Tighter social controls are introduced in the form of bans on Sharia law and Latino studies, voter ID, draconian anti-immigrant legislation and prohibitions on same-sex marriage.

Culture wars are the ultimate shell game, a cheap parlor trick of smoke and mirrors to mask the wide scale corporate theft taking place.  These cultural issues – which also include gun proliferation and the war against a woman’s reproductive rights, including contraception – will do nothing to improve anyone’s station in life.  Yet these time-tested culture wars are fought because someone is betting that the common folk will take the bait.  And usually, such is the case.

Meanwhile, the sanctimonious and self-righteous rightwing among us, a morals police and Christian Taliban of sorts, would distract us with fertilized egg personhood and mandatory sonograms for women seeking an abortion.  But in the face of injustice, like the white clergy in Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, they “have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.”   King called the contemporary church “a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.  So often it is an archdefender of the status quo.  Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent – and often even vocal – sanction of things as they are.”

So, those who obsess over the sex lives of private citizens have said little about our national scourge of economic inequality or the suffering of the poor – you know, the stuff Jesus talked about.  Preoccupied as they are with birth control bans and zygote rights, they were conspicuously silent when the living among them suffered and the innocent died.  Last year, when the state of Georgia killed Troy Davis, an innocent black man, they said nothing.  And they had remained silent seven years earlier, when the state of Texas wrongfully executed Cameron Todd Willingham, an innocent white man.

Yet, there is hope that for their own sake, people will not fall for the shell game forever.  There is a chance that citizens are waking up, resisting the Stockholm Syndrome, and refusing to act against their economic self-interests.  The spirit of the Occupy movement has liberated the public discourse, an alternative to the neo-segregationist Tea Party and its reliance on racial scapegoats.

It’s the Old South vs. the New South

By: David A. Love Friday January 13, 2012 11:16 am

The American South can’t seem to shake off the Civil War. Or Jim Crow. And yet, that region of the U.S. is undergoing some dramatic changes. How the South responds to these changes will determine how easily it will enter the modern world and usher out the racial demons of its past.

Latinos are on the rise in the new South, with the nation’s fastest growing Hispanic populations in the states of the former Confederacy. Georgia and North Carolina are now among the ten largest Latino communities in the nation.

Further, African Americans are coming back home to the region, reflecting the nation’s largest demographic shift. The South now has its highest share of black folks in half a century. As northern states and California have witnessed a loss in their black populations, Atlanta has gained half a million black people in a decade. The largest black city after New York is no longer Chicago, it is Atlanta.

The migration of Latinos and the reverse migration of blacks mean that people of color are poised to become a majority in some areas of the South, as is the case in Texas. Add to that the influx of white professionals and high-tech workers in states such as North Carolina — a red state that Obama turned blue in 2008 — and you have the makings of noticeable change.

Then again, you have Alabama. After the state enacted the harshest anti-immigration law in the land, Latinos are leaving Alabama. Now, farmers are hoping to replace migrant workers with prisoners to work the fields because, after all, we know how forced agricultural labor worked out the first time around.

Alabama, as an aside, has a majority black prison population. African-Americans are 27 percent of the population and 63 percent of the prisoners. The state is 23rd in the nation in population, but was second in the number of executions in 2011. And over the past decade, nearly two dozen death penalty cases were overturned because prosecutors illegally struck black jurors.

Last year, like Alabama, South Carolina also passed its own bad anti-immigration law — modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070 — key parts of which were thrown out by a federal judge in Charleston. And the U.S. Department of Justice blocked the state’s new voter ID law, which would require voters to present a photo idea at the polls, and discriminate against racial minorities in the process. Under the Voting Rights Act, states such as South Carolina and Texas, because of their history of racial discrimination, require federal approval of any changes to their election laws.

The old South meets the new, as South Carolina’s Governor Nikki Haley signed both of these cruel, atrocious pieces of legislation into law, and vows to fight in court to have them upheld. Governor Haley is the children of Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India. The Sikh-American community has endured its share of discrimination in the post-911 era, branded as terrorists and persecuted for the traditional turban and beard worn by Sikh men.

And so, a woman of South Asian ancestry, a person of color and darling of the Tea Party, has chosen to channel the angry white segregationist governors that came before her. Some names that come to mind are George Wallace of Alabama, who stood in the schoolhouse door to block black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama; Theodore G. Bilbo of Mississippi, who kept blacks from voting, and Ross Barnett, who denied James Meredith, an African-American, admission to the University of Mississippi.

Haley’s policies, not unlike those of her predecessors, are the unjust laws that Martin Luther King discussed in Letter from Birmingham Jail. As King said, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. … An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal.”

Even today, such laws are designed to keep communities of color isolated, scared and disempowered, down and out of the process. That the dominant party in the South has changed its affiliation from Democratic to Republican since the Civil Rights era really is beside the point. The old mentality remains. We’re talking old South vs. new South, a steadfast resistance to civil rights, and clinging to a segregationist mindset, even well into the twenty-first century.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, a black man named Troy Davis was executed last year under the rules of the old South — a justice system of mob rule, in which racial vengeance and scapegoating take precedence over guilt or innocence. In the end, what mattered was not the evidence pointing to Davis’s innocence, or the seven out of nine witnesses who recanted or changed their testimony, but rather that the victim was a white police officer and Davis was a black man.

Although I was born and raised in New York and now live in Philadelphia, I always regarded the South as a second home, if not something of an ancestral homeland. My mother was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and my late father was from Augusta, Georgia. I have lots of family there, not to mention fond childhood memories of visiting cousins. Many good people in the South, to be sure, but there’s a great deal of ugly in the South.

The problem arises when some people can’t pick a century to live in and stick with it.

David A. Love is the Executive Director of Witness to Innocence, a national nonprofit organization that empowers exonerated death row prisoners and their family members to become effective leaders in the movement to abolish the death penalty.

Bull Connor 2.0: The Police Response To #OccupyWallStreet

By: David A. Love Friday December 16, 2011 2:04 pm

Looking at the police response to the Occupy Wall Street movement, Bull Connor would be proud.

What went barely reported recently was that the United Nations has taken an interest in how the United States has dealt with the Occupy folks. Specifically, Frank LaRue, the UN special rapporteur for the protection of free expression, believes that the law enforcement crackdowns against Occupy protesters are a violation of their constitutional and human rights.

Meanwhile, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, noting the assault by police and arrest of journalists in some cities, urged authorities to protect journalists at these protests.

Why are the local authorities breaking up these peaceful protests — in which people are exercising their right to free speech — often through the use of violence, mass arrests, tear gas, smoke grenades, pepper spray, bean-bag rounds and brute force? And why are they beating and detaining reporters, or judges and city council members for that matter?

It all reminds me of Bull Connor, that infamous bull horn-toting, civil rights-era Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, also known as “Bombingham,” Alabama. Summoned from central casting, the dyed-in-the-wool white supremacist drew attention to himself when he sprayed water hoses and sicked dogs on peaceful public demonstrators, including children. Those water hoses tore the bark off trees.

And the press caught all of it on tape.

Connor made a fool of himself, and his actions and those of his henchmen were broadcasted before a national and international audience. It put the U.S. to shame, and placed the spotlight on the Jim Crow South in particular. The moral bankruptcy of segregation was evident in the heavy handed tactics employed by the Bull Connors of America.

Then there was the riot by the Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic Convention. And on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard killed four and injured nine unarmed protesters at Kent State University who opposed Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia.

This nation, the land of the free, has always known what to do to keep people in line, especially in order to protect capital. Armed thugs, whether dressed in blue uniforms or not, were used by people in power for union busting and strike breaking. The 1 percent never could have succeeded without the complicity and active participation of some members of the 99 percent, including the cops who provide the muscle. Those working class police officers, who certainly will never become rich, should side with the very popular movements that would improve their own condition. After all, as is the case with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, union busting includes police unions, too.

The NYPD brass who walked around pepper spraying Occupy protesters, and the UC Davis police who summarily sprayed peaceful student demonstrators, behaved in the time-tested, repugnant tradition of Bull Connor. These days, the key issue is not Jim Crow segregation or the war in Vietnam. Rather, as Naomi Wolf poignantly noted in the Guardian, the Occupy agenda is getting money out of politics, reforming the banks, and stopping politicians from passing legislation affecting Delaware corporations in which they are investors. In other words, they want to cut American capitalism at the knees, eliminate the fraud on Wall Street, and drain the swamp of legalized corruption and bribery that is Washington. They want to get rid of the fundamental inequities of a system to which Americans have become far too accustomed. This is the best tradition of Martin Luther King’s “radical revolution of values,” what he envisioned as “the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society.”

Needless to say, there are those who will do what they must to prevent this from happening.

Cities throughout the nation appear to be acting in concert with an anti-Occupy Wall Street strategy. It is no coincidence that simultaneously, police forces throughout the country are violently disbanding Occupy tent cities. The Department of Homeland Security held conference calls with numerous city governments on how to crack down on the protesters. The writing is on the wall.

The police response to the Occupy Movement flies in the face of the reputed tenets of American constitutional democracy, and contravenes the precepts of international human rights law. But hey, this is America. And in America, capitalism trumps democracy. And we can’t allow capitalism to become a dirty word, now can we?

We Could Use A Little Class Warfare Right Now

By: David A. Love Friday September 30, 2011 8:33 am

Recently, the jobs crisis in America prompted New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to predict that riots will come if jobs are not created soon.

“We have a lot of kids graduating college, can’t find jobs,” Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show.  “That’s what happened in Cairo. That’s what happened in Madrid. You don’t want those kinds of riots here.”

“The damage to a generation that can’t find jobs will go on for many, many years,” he added.

As for a nation with multimedia diversions—not to mention a stubborn, widespread belief that the American Dream of upward mobility still will come to all who want it— I have maintained that it will take a great deal for riots to come to this country once again.  I certainly would not want to see violence fall upon anyone in any community.

At the same time, as a student of history I understand that things do happen.  In the 1960s, communities of color reached a tipping point.  Call them riots, civil disturbances or urban rebellions, they often arose from acts of police brutality.  But ultimately, they came to reflect frustration over poverty and inequality, a lack of economic opportunity, no jobs, bad schools and a shortage of housing.

And it was also a time of heightened political awareness and political activism, with the civil rights, antiwar and Black Power movements in full force.  Meanwhile, J. Edgar Hoover and the police made their best effort to neutralize these protest movements, even if it meant assassinating their leaders.

Now, I’m sure that some commentators at the time dismissed the riots as acts of vandalism and mayhem on the part of “those” lawless people, meaning black folks, who just don’t know how to behave.

And yet, while blacks, Latinos and other historically marginalized groups have always known pain, whether back in the day or under the current recession, today we are witnessing something fundamentally different.  Today, the thumbscrews are being applied to America’s poor, working class and middle class, as a collective.  And you can’t help but believe that the torturers are engaged in a perverse experiment to see how much they can get away with.

If the U.S. has not reached a tipping point of sorts, you can’t help but think it will come soon.  Some 6.9 million jobs have been lost since the trap door came aloose on the nation’s flawed economic system in 2007.  Add to that the jobs needed to keep up with population growth and America has a jobs deficit of 11 million jobs.

A jobs crisis exists side-by-side with a staggering rate of poverty unmatched in over half a century.  One in six Americans lives in poverty—46.2 million people, or 15.1 percent—a third of them children.  The Latino poverty rate is 26 percent, with 27 percent for blacks.  The U.S. is experiencing a lost decade, and beyond the numbers there exists a profound psychological toll that defies any degree of quantifying.

It is one thing to say that half of all Americans earn less than less than $26,000, and only 1 percent earn  over $250,000.  You can also point out that in the land of opportunity, the nation with the highest inequality in the industrialized world, 400 people have more wealth than half the entire country combined.

But it is an entirely different proposition to ask why, and how to stop it.

Simply put, America’s political governance system has been purchased by the nation’s top 1 percent, and they are getting their money’s worth.  Corporate money has taken over the government, and the government is unable, no, unwilling to take care of the needs of its people, sans the 1 percent who possess their sales receipt in hand.

American politics is legalized bribery and corruption.  With the social welfare system peeling away for austerity’s sake, American capitalism, unfettered, is reverting back to its natural state of exploitation—allowing a few winners, mostly losers, and a lot of cold-bloodedness and cold-heartedness to go around.

The party controlling Congress is a Koch Brothers-led sideshow of extremism, lunacy, instability and racial paranoia.  And the party in the White House is led by a man who means well on his best days, but has placed far too much faith in Ivy League white dudes.  He has sought friendship with those who plan his demise— and that of the nation’s economy for political gain— as he legitimizes and embraces their pathological ideas.  Half-measures and Clintonian triangulation have appeared misplaced and wholly inadequate, falling far short of the bold promises of hope and change in the 2008 election.

Right now, the president is on the right track in his populist efforts at pushback against the GOP, including a proposal to end the Bush tax cuts and tax the wealthy more, or at least as much as the rest of us.

Ultimately, public pressure will turn all of this around, as it always does.  What we learned is that elections are not enough, and politics is not a spectator sport.  The people must demand what they want from their elected officials, and change the terms of the public debate.  Mass protest, not President Obama, will do the job of saving us from American capitalism.

A movement called Occupy Wall Street has decided to take a cue from the Arab Spring, and engage in nonviolent mass occupation to fight the greed and corruption of the top 1 percent and restore democracy in America.  The movement, which plans to camp out on Wall Street for a few months, is not getting as much attention as it should.  Hopefully that will change.  We could use a little class warfare right now.  It is always good to know where things stand.

The Death Penalty as Ritualized Mob Violence

By: David A. Love Friday September 30, 2011 8:26 am

The execution of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia has outraged many, placing the gruesome and barbaric practice of capital punishment under the microscope.

A black man who at the least was apparently innocent— and at most definitely innocent— was executed despite serious questions about his case.  Most of all, there was ample evidence that Davis was not the man who killed Mark MacPhail, a white off-duty police officer in 1989.

When a white conservative audience cheered presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry over his execution record at a recent debate, it underscored what is wrong with the death penalty.

Even as 138 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973, surely many innocent souls were executed.  But Perry asserted that he does not lose sleep over the notion that someone among the then-234 prisoners he put to death was innocent.

“No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which — when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required,” said Perry.

The governor added, “But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed.”

The shock value of Perry’s assurances that his death machine is thoughtful–the U.S. Supreme Court just stayed two Texas executions—was matched only by the bloodlust of the lynch mob that applauded him.  I say lynch mob because the death penalty, like the motives of a bloodthirsty mob seeking vengeance, was never about guilt or innocence.

Capital punishment is ritual mob violence, plain and simple.

No one claims that the death penalty deters crime, because it doesn’t, and there is no need to go there in any case.  There is no need for a cost-benefit analysis with a form of punishment so purely ritualized— up to the serving of the last meal to the condemned person, symbolizing that which he or she does not deserve.

And diehard supporters of capital punishment will focus on the need for justice and finality for the victims’ families.  Yet they will not entertain the role that race-, class- and politics-driven biases, not to mention outright incompetence and malfeasance, play in the administration of state-sponsored death.

Ancient peoples used the scapegoat as the personification of their hatred, fears and frustrations.  They sacrificed the scapegoat to transfer their sins and cleanse society.  In modern times, scapegoats have served a more rational role of preserving the status quo.

As the social psychologist Eliot Aronson has theorized, people in adverse situations may be inclined to lash out at the source of their problems, but may find it hard to retaliate against the direct cause of their frustrations.  So they lash out against those who are hated, visible and powerless.

Scapegoaters unite to eliminate the perceived cause of their problems, even the randomly selected perpetrator, as social thinker René Girard posits.  Even if there was an actual crime, the mob would not seek the actual perpetrator.  The actual perpetrator is probably a member of the community, and his elimination would bring retaliation.  Rather, a random scapegoat is targeted. Yet, the community will believe that the scapegoat is guilty, that she is actually responsible for the community’s problems.

And the ritual killing either will bring relief to the mob, or further fuel their anger.

Scapegoats are victims of a highly psychological process, but economics and politics are involved as well.  In America, blacks have served historically as the consummate racial scapegoat—blamed for failed policies, accused of committing crimes real or imagined, targeted for violence and their economically exploited.   Stereotypes justified the violence visited upon black people, and a regime of slavery and Jim Crow normalized the dehumanization of people of color.

It is no accident that prisoners of color, particularly blacks and Latinos, are disproportionately represented on death row, or that a vast majority of executions take place in a small number of Southern states where lynching and racial violence were commonplace.  And lynchings were public spectacles where tickets were sold, the spectators had picnics, and members of the crowd kept body parts of the victim as souvenirs.

In the early twentieth century, Southern states, fearing the passing of an anti-lynching statute by Congress, brought lynching into the justice system.  The courts assured the mob that black defendants would receive a quick guilty verdict, provided the mob allowed the system to do its part.

Indeed, the courts served as an effective venue for racial violence.  Between 1924 and 1972, when the Supreme Court found capital punishment unconstitutional, Georgia executed 337 blacks and only 75 whites.

One of those 337 was Lena Baker, the only woman to die in Georgia’s electric chair, known as “Old Sparky.”.  A black maid, her crime was being in an abusive and exploitative relationship with her employer Ernest B. Knight, a white man, who kept her as a slave, threatened her life, and locked her up for days at a time.  One day Baker fought back in an act of self- defense.  The two “tussled” over a pistol, which fired, killing Knight.  She was found guilty of murder by an all-white-male jury, in a trial that lasted less than a full day.  The jury came back after less than a half hour of deliberation.  Baker was pardoned posthumously in 2005, 60 years after her execution.

So the Troy Davis execution, like so many before him, was a lynching.  Remember that with ritualized killings, guilt or innocent is beside the point.  Someone must die, and anyone will do.

In Congress and the Knesset, Rightwing Extremism Wins

By: David A. Love Thursday August 4, 2011 7:09 am
"Knesset (HDR)"

"Knesset (HDR)" by Avital Pinnick on flickr

I was struck by a recent op-ed in the New York Times written by a member of the Israeli Knesset.  In his July 29 opinion piece, Ahmad Tibi, an Israeli lawmaker of Arab descent, lamented the loss of free speech in Israel.  At issue is the new law which makes it illegal to support boycotts targeting Israel or any area under its control.  This includes the illegal settlements in West Bank, which effectively closes the door to a two-state solution by creating a legal annexation of the territory.  In addition, the law places Israel and its actions, however colonial, above the law.

The law imposes severe penalties of up to 30,000 NIS for individuals, organizations or businesses that participate in boycotts.  Further, groups supporting the boycotts face denial of state funding and tax-deductible donations.  And critics view the legislation as an unprecedented, perhaps even desperate, move to silence nonviolent resistance to an unjust occupation.  The global movement, called BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is led by Palestinian civil society, but enjoys broad support, including from some Jewish organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace.

“Because I believe in ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, equal rights for Palestinians and Jews, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees forced from their homes and lands in 1948, I support boycotting — and calling on others to boycott — all Israeli companies that help perpetuate these injustices,” Tibi wrote in the Times. “But this new legal limit on free speech could bankrupt me.  Israeli officials will not throw me in jail for publicly supporting such boycotts, but settler groups can claim financial damages without even having to show any harm done,” he added.  Tibi noted that one of his colleagues has already threatened to sue him under the new law.