No one should have been on the edge of their seat about the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial. He was caught on video kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd begged for his life. But this is America, where police are almost never held accountable, so we held our breath and prepared for Chauvin to be acquitted. But in this rare case, a jury of six white, four Black and two multiracial people provided a measure of justice, finding Chauvin guilty of murder. Surely, the jury’s diverse makeup helped it reach this much-needed verdict. Yet, it’s exactly this kind of diversity that prosecutors often work to avoid. They strike Black citizens from juries at far higher rates than whites. Then, when they’re accused of violating the law prohibiting racist jury strikes, they offer the flimsiest possible defenses. And no matter how implausible their excuses are, they almost always get away with it.
This piece is reposted from N.C. Policy Watch. By Elizabeth Hambourger “This is, as we know, a historic day for Virginia. We are the first Southern state to abolish capital […]
This week, the federal government plans to execute three people: Lisa Montgomery, Cory Johnson and Dustin Higgs. If all three executions are carried out, that will make 13 people executed […]
In the midst of a Coronavirus pandemic, society is forced to decide which work is essential. Across the United States, that question is now being applied to countless enterprises — including the death penalty. Is it essential for states to kill people? Eighteen executions are scheduled between now and the end of the year in Texas, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. Countless death penalty trials are also planned across the country, including in North Carolina. The courts are likely to call most or all of them off because, right now, if our society wants to kill, we must risk harming innocent people too. That has always been true, but the Coronavirus allows us to see and feel that risk more concretely.
This week, some much-needed good news came out of Colorado. Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill ending the death penalty and commuting the sentences of the state’s three remaining death row prisoners. His signature made Colorado the tenth state since 2007 to decide that the death penalty isn’t necessary to maintain public safety and does more to perpetuate injustice than to ensure justice. Right now, with Covid-19 bearing down, most states and local governments are focusing on short-term efforts to cut jail populations and release some of the scores of people who are behind bars only because they can’t afford to pay bail. But Colorado has taken a step at the other end of the spectrum, joining a national movement away from the death penalty.
The families of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha lost their children in a terrible and senseless crime that terrorized the entire Muslim community. Still, they have chosen the path of light and love. They opened a community center for young Muslim people in a house that Barakat once owned. They started an annual interfaith food drive in the victims’ honor. And this week they supported the Durham DA’s decision not to pursue the death penalty at their killer’s trial.
In today’s world, it’s easy to think politicians on both sides of the aisle care only about their own power and reelection chances. But every once in a while, we see an act of moral leadership that renews our faith in government. This week, it happened in California. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would dismantle the death chamber and grant the state’s nearly 750 death row inmates a reprieve. They will remain incarcerated but will no longer live under the threat of execution. It was a stunning move in a state with the nation’s largest death row. North Carolina, too, should make the enlightened choice to put an official end to the death penalty.
Last week, Washington became the 20th state to end the death penalty after its Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment is arbitrary and racially biased. If those are reasons to outlaw the death penalty, then it is surely time for the North Carolina death penalty to go. If anything, the death penalty in NC is more racist, more arbitrary, and threatens the lives of far more people.
In 2017, N.C. juries rejected the death penalty, more innocent people were released from death row, and public support for executions fell to a 45-year low. As we look to 2018, let’s skip the outdated death penalty rhetoric and start looking for solutions that actually make people safer — like properly staffing prisons and supplying guards with working radios.
The question our society should be asking is not: Do you believe that people who commit murders should be punished? The answer to that is obvious. The question that gets to the heart of the matter is: What’s the fairest, most efficient, and most effective way to punish people who commit the worst crimes? When you ask it that way, the death penalty is clearly not the answer.
Prosecutors might tell you they need the death penalty to punish the “worst of the worst.” But in practice, that’s not how the death penalty is used in North Carolina. Our state spends millions each year to pursue death sentences that are arbitrary and unnecessary, and uses the threat of death as a negotiation tactic to pressure defendants to accept plea bargains — sometimes putting innocent lives on the line.