• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

Spring Donation Drive

CounterPunch is a lifeboat piggybank-icon of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Gov. Greitens: Pull Down Missouri’s Racist Death Penalty Statutes!

Photo by thekirbster | CC BY 2.0

This past Tuesday, well over one hundred and fifty years since the end of the Civil War, a powerful, well-connected, well-to-do Southern white man, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, exercised his law-given authority to stay the execution of Marcellus Williams, a poor black man. The reprieve was issued hours before the scheduled pumping of caustic chemicals by state officials into Williams’s body. 

Convicted by a nearly all-white jury (there was one black juror) of killing a white woman, Williams was tried in St. Louis County, a jurisdiction writer Rebecca McCray observes is known for the “ease with which prosecutors exclude black jurors in capital trials.” Putting aside the pernicious use of race in denying Williams a true jury of his peers, and also, the tenuous evidence admitted against him – and the grave, grave questions lingering about his guilt – it is critical to understand: Williams was exponentially more likely to receive a death sentence solely because of race, particularly the race of the victim. This long-acknowledged abomination in American death penalty jurisprudence was cowardly acquiesced to by the United States Supreme Court in 1987, in McClesky v. Kemp, a case New York University School of Law professor and celebrated Supreme Court lawyer Anthony G. Amsterdam called, “the Dred Scott decision of our time.”

Williams’s stay of execution, which Greitens granted for “a board of inquiry” to examine DNA test results and additional evidence Williams’s lawyers assert demonstrate his innocence, is temporary. St. Louis county prosecutor Bob McCullough, another white man, the same prosecutor who failed to indict (white) police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown, argues “there was ample other evidence to convict Williams and ‘zero possibility of [Williams’s] innocence.’”

But morally, in keeping with his core beliefs – and irrespective of the nitty-gritty merits of Williams’s innocence claim – Governor Greitens, a former Navy Seal and a man of honor, must commute, to life without the possibility of parole, Williams’s death sentence. Demonstrating consciousness and character desperately lacking in politics today, Greitens must declare a moratorium on the death penalty in Missouri and commute the death sentences of all the state’s condemned inmates – not just Williams’s.

Why? Because of the same logic of fairness and equality undergirding the statement of Admiral John Richardson, the country’s top naval officer, right after the violence in Charlottesville; Richardson declared “the Navy will forever stand against intolerance and hatred.” Echoing Richardson on the day white nationalists rallied in Virginia, Governor Greitens took to twitter, typing:“The hate, racism, and violence on display in Charlottesville is terrible. We must come together. Americans are better than this.”

Admiral Richardson and Governor Greitens are right, Americans are “better than this.” But, by “this,” I also include as Greitens, Richardson, and the rest of civilized society must, the unacceptable racial bias that persists in capital punishment – an ignominious bloody stain running far deeper, and with more tragic results in the frayed fabric of our country, than what we saw in Charlottesville. Indeed, the history of the death penalty in America is hewn from the hell of slavery, subjugation, and the suffering of black people. In an essay in the formidable new book “Policing the Black Man,” legendary civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson writes: “The decline of lynching in America relied heavily on the increased use of capital punishment following court trials and accelerated, unreliable legal process in state courts. The death penalty’s roots are clearly linked to the legacy of lynching.”

A week after the recent ugliness in Charlottesville, popular Protestant pastor and president of North Carolina’s NAACP, Rev. William J. Barber II, posted to his widely followed twitter account: “Pull down the racist statutes, not just the Confederate statues.” While some immediately questioned if, like many first-year law students, Barber had committed a scrivener’s error, a subsequent column in Durham’s daily newspaper, The Herald-Sun, made clear, he had not.

Speaking at Peace Missionary Baptist Church, Barber is reported to have said: “If you just pull down the statue but you do not pull down the statutes, the laws that support them, we still have issues.” The Herald-Sun observed: “Barber admitted that politicians were quick to say the events in Charlottesville were horrible but the root of racism goes much deeper. Solving that problem in America is going to be a long struggle . . . . It will take more than removing offensive symbols. Laws will have to be changed.”

Racist death penalty statutes must be the first to go. Exercising meaningful, impactful leadership, Governor Greitens can and should, start with Missouri’s.

More articles by:

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
May 17, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Trump and the Middle East: a Long Record of Personal Failure
Joan Roelofs
“Get Your Endangered Species Off My Bombing Range!”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Slouching Towards Tehran
Paul Street
It’s Even More Terrible Than You Thought
Rob Urie
Grabby Joe and the Problem of Environmental Decline
Ajamu Baraka
2020 Elections: It’s Militarism and the Military Budget Stupid!
Andrew Levine
Springtime for Biden and Democrats
Richard Moser
The Interlocking Crises: War and Climate Chaos
Ron Jacobs
Uncle Sam Needs Our Help Again?
Eric Draitser
Elizabeth Warren Was Smart to Tell FOX to Go to Hell
Peter Bolton
The Washington Post’s “Cartel of the Suns” Theory is the Latest Desperate Excuse for Why the Coup Attempt in Venezuela has Failed
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Analysis of Undecideds Suggests Biden’s Support May be Exaggerated
Peter Lackowski
Eyewitness in Venezuela: a 14-year Perspective
Karl Grossman
Can Jerry Nadler Take Down Trump?
Howie Hawkins
Does the Climate Movement Really Mean What It Says?
Gary Leupp
Bolton and the Road to the War He Wants
Jill Richardson
Climate Change was No Accident
Josh Hoxie
Debunking Myths About Wealth and Race
David Barsamian
Iran Notes
David Mattson
Social Carrying Capacity Politspeak Bamboozle
Christopher Brauchli
The Pompeo Smirk
Louis Proyect
Trotsky, Bukharin and the Eco-Modernists
Martha Burk
Will Burning at the Stake Come Next?
John W. Whitehead
The Deadly Perils of Traffic Stops in America
Binoy Kampmark
The Christchurch Pledge and a Regulated Internet
David Rosen
Florida’s Sex Wars: the Battle to Decriminalize Sex Work
Ralph Nader
Trump: Importing Dangerous Medicines and Food and Keeping Consumers in the Dark
Brett Haverstick
America’s Roadless Rules are Not Protecting Public Wildlands From Development
Alan Macleod
Purity Tests Can be a Good Thing
Binoy Kampmark
Modern Merchants of Death: the NSO Group, Spyware and Human Rights
Kim C. Domenico
Anarchism & Reconciliation, Part II
Peter LaVenia
Game of Thrones and the Truth About Class (Spoiler Warning)
Manuel E. Yepe
The Options Trump Puts on the Table
Renee Parsons
The Pompeo/Bolton Tag Team
David Swanson
Where Lyme Disease Came From and Why It Eludes Treatment
Cesar Chelala
Lowering Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Our Problems are Deeper than “Capitalism” (and “Socialism” Alone Can’t Solve Them)
Chris Zinda
Delegislating Wilderness
Robert Koehler
War’s Unanswered Questions
Robert P. Alvarez
Let Prison Inmates Vote
Barbara Nimri Aziz
A Novel We Can All Relate To
David Yearsley
Carmen’s Mother’s Day Lessons
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ziya Tong’s “The Reality Bubble”
Elliot Sperber
Pharaoh’s Dream
Elizabeth Keyes
Somewhere Beyond Corporate Media Yemenis Die
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail