On Oct. 10 — World Day Against the Death Penalty — activists, political leaders and lawyers unite in solidarity from around the world to call for the universal abolition of capital punishment. Now in its 21st year, the day is meant to recognize the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment and build on the momentum of the current global abolition movement, according to the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. The death penalty is also disproportionately applied to people of color, as over half of the US death row population is Black or Latino, and typically subjects people on death row to harsher conditions than the general prison population.
A political prisoner is a person targeted or imprisoned because of their political actions, affiliations and/or beliefs. A political prisoner is also an individual, who while incarcerated, transforms themselves from a social prisoner by gaining clarity, embracing and maintaining political struggle. Thirty-seven-year-old Kevin “KJ” Johnson is scheduled to be executed by the State of Missouri on November 29th; most would not view him as a “political prisoner.” However, given the poverty, neglect, suffering and abuse that comes with being a captive in domestic colonies and urban enclaves within a capitalist and imperialist state, from the onset Kevin was undoubtedly a victim of US politics and policing. On July 5, 2005, 19-year-old Kevin “KJ” Johnson witnessed his 12- year-old brother, “Bam Bam” collapse while police conducted a search of their grandmother’s home.
Austin, Texas - It was a perfect weather day at the Texas Capitol in Austin Oct. 22, for hundreds who participated in one march and two rallies against the racist anti-poor death penalty. In three emotional hours, love, solidarity, determination, anger, heartbreak and resilience filled the crisp autumn air as activists held the 23rd Annual Texas March and Rally to Abolish the Death Penalty. A carload of people came from the Rio Grande Valley near the Texas-Mexico border and others from nearby cities. The Kids Against the Death Penalty led a loud and militant march around the capitol to the governor’s mansion and through downtown, totally disturbing the peace. Austin’s progressive singer/songwriter Sara Hickman warmed up the crowd early on with her vocals.
Illinois - The first time I visited Ronnie Kitchen on death row at Pontiac Correctional Center, I drove down with his mother, Louva Grace Bell. Ronnie was one of the cofounders of the Death Row Ten, a group of Black men, all of whom had been tortured by former Chicago Police Department Commander Jon Burge and white detectives under his command, and all of whom had been convicted and sentenced to death on the basis of tortured confessions. When they came together in 1998, the Death Row Ten enlisted the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) to be their voice on the outside and together forged a visible grassroots campaign that interrupted Illinois’s death machine and led to the exoneration or release of six of their members.
On January 17, 1977, Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad, shot through the heart, at Utah State Prison. He was the first person to be executed after the death penalty had been reinstated in the United States in 1976. This year, to mark the 45th anniversary of this execution, which coincided with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Death Penalty Action and a coalition of death penalty abolitionists gathered in Washington, D.C. calling for an end to the federal death penalty and all executions in the United States. After a 17-year hiatus, the U.S. resumed federal executions a year and a half ago. Between July 2020 and January 2021, the Trump administration executed 13 people who were on federal death row, a number surpassing the total number of federal executions that had taken place over the preceding 70 years (1949-2019) spanning 11 presidential administrations.
The U.S. death penalty has always been a symbol of white supremacy and a violation of human rights law. Having already executed 11 people this year, the Trump administration plans to execute five people (four of them Black) during a lame-duck session. This would be the first time a president has carried out executions during a lame-duck session since the Cleveland administration carried out the execution of an Indigenous man in 1890. The profound anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells once said: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
Right now, our nation is in a moment of reckoning with our criminal punishment system. We are finally seeing clearly what should have been obvious long ago: The system has its knee on the necks of Black people. In North Carolina, as we begin a long-overdue conversation about the future of police and prisons, we must confront the punishment that sits at the top of that system, condoning all its other cruelties — the death penalty. When citizens have acclimated to the state strapping a person to a gurney and killing them in front of an audience, it becomes harder to shock them.
This first execution in 17 years was performed by lethal injection because hanging has a bad rep these days. It feels too Wild West, though it is carbon neutral. And electrocution has been on the outs because I imagine the environmentalists were furious the electricity was coming from coal power plants. (Don’t quote me on that.) I mean, if you’re going to turn a guy into a shish kabob, don’t use dirty energy to do it, okay? Maybe he could pedal a bike that powers his own murder. That’s eco-friendly. Or how about death by a wind turbine? I’m sure if you got a guy close enough to one of those things, the blades would knock his head clean off. That would be completely environmentally sustainable and fun for the whole family.
In just four days, the U.S. government doubled the number of federal executions since Congress reauthorized the federal death penalty in 1988. Three men were put to death in the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., on July 14, 16 and 17. After a flurry of last minute appeals, stays of execution, the lifting of stays, injunctions and petitions regarding the nature of the drugs to be used, witnesses fearing exposure to COVID-19 and victims’ families asking for a halt — Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey and Dustin Honken, all white, are now dead. Another federal prisoner, Keith Nelson, is scheduled to be executed on Aug. 28.
The Supreme Court’s opinion in Bucklew v. Precythe, which it handed down Monday on a party-line vote, is at once the most significant Eighth Amendment decision of the last several decades and the cruelest in at least as much time. Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion tosses out a basic assumption that animated the Court’s understanding of what constitutes a “cruel and unusual” punishment for more than half a century. In the process, he writes that the state of Missouri may effectively torture a man to death — so long as it does not gratuitously inflict pain for the sheer purpose of inflicting pain.
For the past 33 Christmas holidays, Cooper has inhabited an 11-by-4 ½-foot cell in California’s San Quentin State Prison, the last eight waiting for Brown to grant him a new hearing and advanced DNA testing that would support what federal Appellate Judge William Fletcher has said: “Kevin Cooper is on death row because the San Bernardino sheriff’s department framed him.” Cooper, at the top of the list to be killed when the state resumes executions, talks to Robert Scheer in the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence” about the unfairness of the justice system and the difficulty of proving one’s innocence once convicted.
Finding that the death penalty "is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner," a unanimous Washington Supreme Court has struck down the state's capital-punishment statute as violating Washington's state constitutional prohibition against "cruel punishment." The court's ruling, authored by Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst and issued on October 11, 2018, declared: "The death penalty, as administered in our state, fails to serve any legitimate penological goal; thus, it violates article I, section 14 of our state constitution." The decision also converted the sentences of all eight people on the state's death row (pictured) to life imprisonment without possibility of release.
By Zack Ford for Think Progress - The United Nations approved a resolution Friday condemning the use of the death penalty in a discriminatory fashion, including its use to punish “apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, and consensual same-sex relations.” But the United States joined a minority of states who voted against it. ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association, highlighted the outcome of the vote. Executive director Renato Sabbadini noted in a statement how atrocious some countries’ anti-gay laws are, saying, “It is unconscionable to think that there are hundreds of millions of people living in States where somebody may be executed simply because of whom they love.” Four countries punish homosexuality with death (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen), as do certain provinces in Nigeria and Somalia and ISIS-controlled territories in northern Iraq and northern Syria. The nations of Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates also permit the death penalty, but rarely enforce it. There are far more countries where homosexuality is illegal but not punishable by death. Brunei Darussalam previously passed a death penalty law, but it has not been implemented. Uganda considered such a law just a few years ago.
By Kim Bellware for The Huffington Post - He criticized the University of Arkansas’ lack of racial diversity in 2002 and attacked President George W. Bush for the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War in 2005. The latter may have been part of the reason he lost his re-election bid for the Arkansas Court of Appeals a few years later. In 2011, he won a seat on the state’s 6th Circuit court. “We have never, in my knowledge, been so afraid to admit that people can have personal beliefs yet can follow the law, even when to follow the law means they must place their personal feelings aside,” Griffen told The Associated Press on Saturday. Griffen’s ruling on Friday had put another wrench in the state’s plan to start the series of eight executions on Monday and complete them before its supply of one hard-to-obtain lethal injection drug expired. Two of the eight prisoners had already been granted stays of execution when a federal judge on Saturday halted those of the remaining inmates on grounds that the state’s hasty schedule denied them due process. McKesson Medical-Surgical moved to lift Griffen’s temporary restraining order following the federal court ruling, arguing that the order had become unnecessary.
By Rebekah Barber for Facing South - "I understand this is a controversial issue but what isn't controversial is the evidence that led to my decision," Florida state prosecutor Aramis Ayala said last week as she announced she would not seek the death penalty for cases in the Orange-Osceola jurisdiction where she was recently elected to serve as Florida's first African-American state prosecutor. The state's death penalty — which was found unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in 2016 — was reinstated just days before Ayala's March 16 announcement when Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed legislation requiring a unanimous jury to sentence someone to death. Following Ayala's announcement, Scott removed her from the high-profile murder case of Markeith Lloyd...