No, we weren’t in the room. We didn’t see the technicians spread and shackle his arms. We didn’t see the priest lightly graze Wesley’s cheek and whisper in his ear. We didn’t hear his “five or six rasping breaths” before his heart stopped. We weren’t there earlier when Wesley ate his last meal, breaded fish, green beans, bread, fruit punch and milk. We weren’t witness to an execution that had more in common with a lynching than anything resembling justice.
We were right outside, shivering in the lightly falling snow. We were joined by roughly fifty others, including Wesley’s mother Delores who also couldn’t stop trembling, but not from the snow as her quiet sobs revealed. Delores is no stranger to seeing her children die. She already had buried two other sons, swallowed whole by violence. Now the state of Maryland would snuff out a third. In an earlier interview with the press she stated, “I understand the [victim’s] family, the suffering they have been through. I just don’t want to lose my son. I think I’ve had my share.”
It’s horribly ironic that the state of Maryland was finally at full attention of the existence of Wesley Baker only after he was convicted of murder. The state could not be bothered when Wesley was conceived, after Delores was raped at age 13. They didn’t have any kind of intervention when Wesley was sexually abused at age five and homeless on the streets at age eight sleeping in abandoned cars and motel bathrooms. The state was nowhere to be found when Wesley was repeatedly hospitalized as a child for stab wounds, eye injuries, and nose injuries that required surgery. Maryland officials were nowhere to be found when Wesley suffered his first drug overdose at the age of 12.
Governor Robert Ehrlich, a chilling man born without compassion for anything but his rabid base, said that looking at Wesley’s life there were no “mitigating factors.” In that respect, it was fitting that we stood together in the shadow of Baltimore’s high-tech, 250-million dollar SuperMax prison as Wesley died. This is the city that can build prisons and two publicly funded stadiums while there is no money to actually intervene in the lives of people like Wesley Baker.
That last night, we made sure Delores didn’t have to endure this injustice by herself. We were also joined by the prisoners inside screaming “Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him!” desperately through the bars. We were there to make sure that Wesley didn’t die alone, and that this state-sponsored hate crime did not occur without witness. Wesley was the first black man executed in Maryland since a University of Maryland study found gross disparities, by race and geography, in how the death penalty law is used. Of the seven prisoners that remain on Maryland’s death row all but one are Black. All but one stand accused of killing whites. Wesley was there for the death more than ten years ago of Jane Tyson. He was robbing her for $10.00 a senseless crime without thought or reason. But with a premeditation that would shame Ted Bundy, the state has remorselessly set about executing Wesley for more than a decade.
Outside the snow fell so softly our candles were still able to stay lit, the hot wax dripping on our hands, not that we noticed. We all noticed and will never forget–Delores Williams being led away in the arms of family, finally unable to stomach any longer seeing the son born into the world in such a fit of violence, be extinguished by a violence no less repellent, no less horrifying.
After she left, Wesley’s attorney Gary Christopher, looking like a part of him had died as well, addressed us saying, “He was moved beyond measure by all the support you have given him over the years. Wesley hopes that some good comes of this,” he added. “And that is that the death penalty will wither away, and that his passing will play some role in that.”
It surely will. Every time we raise our voices, in defense of Stanely Tookie Williams this week; in defense of Vernon Evans, John Booth, and everyone of Maryland’s death row, we will say that Wesley walks with us. The state of Maryland and Gov. Ehrlich may want to casually erase his life, but in death he will never ever be forgotten.
[The ordeal of Delores Williams isn’t over. She must now pay thousands of dollars to have Wesley cremated. Delores, who would often take an hour off of her low wage job to attend rallies to save her son outside death row, desperately needs our assistance. Checks can be made payable to Delores Williams and mailed to:
Gary Christopher Federal Public Defender’s Office 100 S. Charles St. Tower 2 — Suite 1100 Baltimore, MD 21201]
Dave Zirin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Stark, a national board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty can be reached at email@example.com