The death penalty’s role in racial oppression

Newspaper article describing lynchingsRace has played a disturbing role in the death penalty’s application throughout its long history in the United States. During slavery, this discrimination was explicitly written in many states’ laws. Blacks and slaves faced the death penalty in cases where the same crime committed by a white person would not even be eligible for death. For example, in Virginia before the Civil War, there were over 60 capital crimes for slaves but only one – murder – for whites. Executions became so closely tied to the punishment of blacks in some regions that executing a white man was, according to one local account from Virginia, a “strange spectacle.”1

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Recommended this week

“Recommended this week” features highlights from the past week in news about the death penalty, crime survivors, and trauma-informed responses to crime.

Supreme Court To Hear Cases Challenging Two Texas Death SentencesBuzzfeed
The high court agrees to hear the death penalty cases of Duane Buck and Bobby James Moore.

After nearly 40 years, murder charges dropped against Kerry Max Cook in East Texas caseThe Dallas Morning News
Kerry Max Cook spent 20 years on death row. This week the murder charges against him were dropped. One of the subjects of “The Exonerated” is finally exonerated.
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U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Duane Buck’s racial bias death penalty case

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear arguments in Buck v. Stephens, a death penalty case raising extraordinary issues of racial bias. Duane Buck is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court’s ruling that his case did not warrant re-consideration, despite his claim that his lawyer was constitutionally ineffective for knowingly introducing “expert” testimony that Mr. Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black. Buck seeks a new, fair sentencing hearing.

Here is a statement from Duane Buck’s attorneys:

“Trial counsel’s knowing reliance on false, inflammatory and deeply prejudicial evidence explicitly linking Mr. Buck’s race to his likelihood of future dangerousness is plainly extraordinary.

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Leading Latino Coalition Calls for End of the Death Penalty in U.S.

Group’s landmark policy agenda addresses criminal justice for the first time

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of 40 prominent Latino organizations, has called for repeal of the death penalty. Collectively, the NHLA leads advocacy behind pressing civil rights and policy issues impacting the 58-million Latinos living in the U.S.

The NHLA Public Policy Agenda is issued only once every four years. This year it includes criminal justice reforms for the first time, as national scrutiny grows over race, the death penalty, and mass incarceration.

“Latinos are a growing part of the national trend away from the death penalty because they are directly affected by its injustices,” said Shari Silberstein, Executive Director of EJUSA, a national organization that launched a dialog with Latinos about the death penalty in 2012.

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Black child, white child: Talking to our children about race

A reflection for Mother’s Day

Amara & BrooklynAs workers in the fight for racial justice and equity, our experiences and the issues we address as staff at EJUSA indelibly reflect within our daily lives. As team members, we talk explicitly about the challenges of race within criminal justice, social and economic equity, and the gamut of issues our nation faces and their impact on traction in our work. Our passion, planning and movement-building happens with analysis and clarity on the end goals.

For those of us with children, we go home to the realities of what race means in our lives and the inevitability of having to discuss race and answer the questions our children may ask in the midst of the chaos and injustice.

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Case of racial bias on appeal to Supreme Court

Duane Buck
Duane Buck was sentenced to death in Texas after his own lawyer called an “expert” who testified that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black. At this crucial moment, when our nation is addressing racial bias in the criminal justice system, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear the full case in the next few weeks. The Court should do everything in its power to ensure Buck receives a full and fair review of his case and, ultimately, a new sentencing hearing, free of racial bias.

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Huge strides made in repeal efforts in Delaware

Delaware Black Leaders for Repeal press conference

Lawmakers in Delaware allowed a bill to repeal the death penalty to get a full debate on the House floor for the first time. The bill had been stuck in the House Judiciary Committee for the last several years.

The growing coalition in Delaware is fired up at having broken through the logjam. Though the bill did not pass, the fight is not over. In fact, there is still a chance the bill will have another day on the House floor in 2016.

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Repeal a high priority in Delaware black community

Repeal a high priority in Delaware black communityLike many people around the country, the people of Delaware – especially African Americans – have grown increasingly frustrated with the criminal justice system. Reflection, education, and dialogue have led to an urgency for action, and the state’s death penalty has come to the forefront as the highest priority.

“People in Delaware, especially within the black community, see the death penalty as the highest form of racial injustice,” says Donald Morton, Director of Complexities of Color (CoC). CoC is a coalition of service and advocacy organizations that have come together to improve the conditions of the African American community. Morton and CoC have worked with EJUSA and a number of other organizations to coordinate Town Hall meetings about race and the criminal justice system in each of Delaware’s three counties. Out of the Town Halls has come a commitment to see an end to Delaware’s death penalty.

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Death penalty documentary garners Oscar buzz

Last Day of Freedom

Last Day of Freedom is a new, short documentary that follows the story of Bill Babbitt and his younger brother, Manny. It has already sparked conversations around the country, and now the it’s gaining momentum as a contender for an Academy Award.

The film centers on the moral challenges Bill faces when he learns Manny has committed a crime. Bill narrates, sharing Manny’s life journey from childhood to his hardships after returning from the Vietnam War. He navigates complex questions surrounding mental health access, veterans’ care, and criminal justice. We love the way the film uses animation to tell the powerful story.

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Supreme Court looks at exclusion of blacks from jury in Georgia death penalty case

Supreme Court BuildingIn its next look at the death penalty, the Supreme Court is faced with the case of Timothy Tyrone Foster, to be argued on November 2. Foster is a black man who was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury for the murder of a white woman. The jury was composed entirely of white Georgia residents after the prosecution excused all four qualified black prospective jurors using its peremptory challenges (challenges for which no reason need be given). The question before the Court is whether those challenges were legal or not, based on precedent set by the 1986 caseBatson v. Kentucky,1 which prohibits peremptory challenges based on the race of potential jurors.

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