Even though Kevin Strickland was sentenced in Missouri to a life sentence for the murders of three people, had he resided in some other states he very well could have been sentenced to death. The 62-year-old Black man was convicted by an all-white jury in 1979. Had he been sentenced in Texas, as an example, he might already have been put to death.
Now think about this.
This week a judge exonerated Strickland after more than 43 years in prison, marking the longest confirmed wrongful conviction case in Missouri’s history, and also one of the longest in the nation. The case against him was built on the testimony of Cynthia Douglas, the sole survivor and eyewitness, who later attempted multiple times to recant her testimony because she said she was pressured by police.
This summer Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued rare posthumous pardons to a group of Black men known as the Martinsville Seven, who were executed in 1951 after being convicted by all-white juries of raping a white woman. He issued what were termed “simple pardons,” which do not deal with the issue of guilt or innocence but recognize that the cases involved racial inequity and a lack of due process. The fact they never had their fair crack at the judicial process means their executions are viewed as appalling.
Just days ago four men known as the Groveland Four were exonerated of the false charges that they raped a white woman in 1949. Florida State Attorney Bill Gladson stated the matter those many decades ago was “a complete breakdown of the criminal justice system.”
Last week in Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt called off the execution of Julius Jones, a Black man on death row. This case had taken on national interest due to the police investigation that was understood to be biased, and a defense lawyer who was more fitted to sweep the courthouse than sit before a judge in a trial. Then there is Oklahoma itself, with a justice system that has been correctly lambasted many times over the decades for racism in their death penalty cases.
The state has the highest Black incarceration rate in the U.S.: Black people are imprisoned at 4.5 times the rate of white people. Racial disparities have been shown at every level of the justice system—from arrest to conviction and ultimately sentencing. The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission found that the state is 3.2 times more likely to ask for the death penalty if the victim is white.
We all can see the dangers within the judicial process with the death penalty, as there is then no room for actual justice to be rendered for those who have been falsely accused.
I just can not find a moral reasoning to ever allow the death penalty to be used as a means of conveying society’s revulsion to a criminal for an act that has been committed. I do not feel that the government has the right to commit someone to death. I have felt this way for all of my life.
The fact we find some criminal acts to be so barbaric that some wish to turn to death as a way to make a statement about how society feels is a natural one. I can understand how upset people can be over a murder. But what I can not understand are those who wish to translate those feelings of anger to an actual execution.
Too often the evidence against Black men who are charged with serious crimes, in certain states with racial animus ingrained in their police departments and judicial processes, falls apart when the full light of sunshine is allowed entrance. The cases above–all within a small time frame from this year– prove the point of how prevalent racism is in police procedures and sentencing.
As a nation, we must not allow ourselves to be taken over by the desire for the ultimate revenge. When we sharply veer into that direction we are absolutely going to make horrific mistakes. With the death penalty, there is no way to ever correct that colossal and wrong decision.
And so it goes.