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Georgia Wants to Execute Warren Hill and Violate the Constitution

5:36 am in Uncategorized by David A. Love

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.

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The White Working Class was Bamboozled

8:49 am in Uncategorized by David A. Love

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

11:16 am in Uncategorized by David A. Love

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.

The Death Penalty as Ritualized Mob Violence

8:26 am in Uncategorized by David A. Love

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.