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.

January 23, 2019
Charles McKelvey
Popular Democracy in Cuba
Kenn Orphan
The Smile of Class Privilege
Leonard Peltier
The History Behind Nate Phillips’ Song
Kenneth Surin
Stalled Brexit Goings On
Jeff Cohen
The System’s Falling Apart: Were the Dogmatic Marxists Right After All?
Cira Pascual Marquina
Chavez and the Continent of Politics: a Conversation with Chris Gilbert
George Ochenski
Turning Federal Lands Over to the States and Other Rightwing Fantasies
George Wuerthner
Forest Service Ignores Science to Justify Logging
Raouf Halaby
In the Fray: Responses to Covington Catholic High
Kim C. Domenico
No Saviors But Ourselves; No Disobedience Without Deeper Loyalty
Ted Rall
Jury Trial? You Have No Right!
Michael Doliner
The Pros and Cons of Near Term Human Extinction
Lee Ballinger
Musical Unity
Elliot Sperber
The Ark Builders
January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Glenn Sacks
Teachers Strike Dispatch #8: New Independent Study Confirms LAUSD Has the Money to Meet UTLA’s Demands
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposable Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail