FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When Racism Lurks in the Heart of a Death Penalty Juror

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” This single, sinister question, asked over a sepulchral-sounding musical score, was rhetorical; for after a dramatic pause and a malevolent cackle, the narrator smugly informed the audience: “The Shadow knows.”

And so it was with this somber admonition on September 26, 1937, that the gritty, crime-fighting character dubbed “The Shadow,” whose exploits had previously been limited to pulp fiction magazines, burst into American consciousness with his own radio program. The uber-successful first episode called “The Death House Rescue” would lead to a run of 664 more installments over 18 seasons.

Exactly 80 years later another story about a scheduled execution, this time one that is all too real, is playing out; but, unlike that first episode of The Shadow, there is little chance of a tidy and fair resolution (much less “a death house rescue”). Indeed, absent an unlikely intervention, the state of Georgia will execute death row inmate Keith Tharpe by lethal injection on September 26, 2017.

Also, unlike the condemned man in The Shadow’s fictional “Death House Rescue,” no one is arguing that Tharpe is innocent. Nevertheless, Tharpe’s attorneys argue he shouldn’t be put to death because, as has been widely reported, after Tharpe’s conviction and death sentence, Tharpe’s lawyers secured a prejudice-laden sworn affidavit from a now-deceased juror by the name of Barney Gattie.

Despite having affirmed under oath during jury selection that he could be fair and impartial – as all jurors in a criminal case must – Gattie swore in his affidavit, that there are two kinds of black people in the world: “good black folks” and “ni**ers.” Gattie attested that the victim’s family in Tharpe’s case belonged to this first group of black people whereas Tharpe belonged to the latter, and further, that this was precisely the warped logic he used to sentence Tharpe to death. Finally, as if these despicable admissions weren’t sufficiently outrageous – and reason enough to commute Tharpe’s death sentence to life without the possibility of parole, because it was so odiously and impermissibly tainted by race – Gattie’s affidavit abominably asserts: “After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls.”

Huge problem, right!? Red flags and alarm bells are sounding all over, aren’t they? Obviously a clear moral imperative exists to call off this twenty-first-century style lynching? Nope. At least, not yet. And, given our increasingly prosecution-leaning, capital punishment-enabling Supreme Court, maybe not at all.

You see, according to asinine arguments advanced by blood-thirsty prosecutors – which thus far both state and federal courts have adopted – Gattie’s vile and hateful comments were merely “racially insensitive offhand remarks.” To fully wrap your mind around this deplorable position, all you have to do is take a break from reality and cue your favorite off-color, cringe-worthy soliloquy by Archie Bunker. (You remember that affable but avowedly racist, anti-Semitic television character from the 70s, don’t you?).

Georgia prosecutors are basically arguing that, just like Archie Bunker, Gattie wasn’t really such a bad guy, was he? If the bigoted but big-hearted Archie Bunker were a real person we would all, each and every one of us, surely trust him to be a fair and impartial juror . . . wouldn’t we? Especially in the case of a black man on trial for his life?

Moreover, Georgia prosecutors are insisting Tharpe’s death sentence remains kosher because, after the revolting details of his affidavit were revealed, Gattie subsequently tried to explain it all away by testifying he was drunk. Specifically, Gattie claimed he was inebriated – both on the day he initially spoke to Tharpe’s defense team – and then, again, on the day he reviewed his racially tinged affidavit and signed it. Thus, not unlike The Shadow’s power to “cloud men’s minds,” prosecutors in Georgia maintain as the actor/producer Mel Gibson (infamously) once did, that it was only because Gattie was wasted that he made his racially repugnant statements.

This is a tough sell – tougher even than that whole ridiculous Archie Bunker bit – because as the saying goes, “a drunken man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts” (or alternatively, as was commonly said in Latin many hundreds of years ago, “in vino, veritas”). Indeed, as Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist who specializes in alcohol addiction told ABC News at the time of Gibson’s highly publicized highway rant: “People dredge up feelings and sentiments from somewhere deep in their brains, so what one says or does certainly reflects what’s going on deep down. Alcohol can most definitely act as a truth serum – something that allows people to say what is truly on their mind.”

And it is with that truism in mind, one that anyone who has ever been drunk before already knows, that we arrive full circle to the question that the Supreme Court of the United States will likely soon be forced to consider about the pending execution of Keith Tharpe: What evil lurked in the heart of Barney Gattie? The answer, of course, is hatred – and racism – as rank and real as it is repulsive. And you don’t need to be The Shadow or even a Supreme Court Justice to know that.

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.

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Justin Anderson
Don’t Count the Left Out Just Yet
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
Kenn Orphan
The Power of Language in the Anthropocene
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail