Recent Exonerated Sentences Show Danger Of Death Penalty To Black Citizens

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.

Sadness Mars Holiday Tradition, Waukesha Children Deprived Of Magical Feeling At Parade

It was a jarring end to a very nice day in Wisconsin.

Sunshine had allowed for people to get outdoors in the afternoon and feel the brisk winds while some people took the warm weather as a sign to–at last–put up outdoor decorations. I noticed others raking lawns and terraces in the afternoon and kids out biking again before winter snows finally arrive. Everyone seemed to be outside and smiling.

And it was, without doubt, that same sense of uplift from such weather that people were feeling as they gathered in Waukesha for the best type of parade there can be—especially if you are a kid. The Christmas parade!

As we sat down for dinner on the isthmus we heard the devastating news.

We turned on the television and saw terrified people, with debris left all about after an SUV drove through the ones participating in the parade, or watching from the sidewalks. As I write some details are emerging with reports of more than 20 people injured, and some killed. The vehicle was located and photos show the horror that played out with the damage to the front end. The driver is in custody.

Of all the images that have poured out on Twitter, there was one, above all, that punches the hardest.

The news of who died has not been released as of this posting. But I can not help but consider that a child–not necessarily the one in the above stroller–left for that Christmas parade with pure excitement on the face, but will never go home again.

The speeding vehicle was simply appalling, and whoever was driving, utterly reprehensible. There have been enough raw nerves, pain, suffering, and stresses for our society in this state over the past weeks. No one should now need to endure this horrific crime ramping up to the holiday season.

I feel for all of the victims, but especially the children. How can that not be the case?

I know the following will sound hokey, but it is how I feel.

When I worked at WDOR our station annually broadcast over the radio a Christmas parade. Ed Allen, Sr. would create the theater of the mind as the sights and sounds were placed into words for the listeners throughout the Door County peninsula. And of course, he would chat with all sorts of people who attended. The best conversations were with kids who might otherwise have been taken aback by a news camera, but there was nothing to be afraid of from a microphone!

So Ed would engage them in banter and it was always the highlight to hear the expressions of delight coming from youngsters who were at that age when Christmas was magical.

It should have been the same for the boys and girls tonight in Waukesha, too.

It was not.

What a dreadful way to start the holiday season.

And so it goes.

Fallout From Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict, Kenosha Has Race And Vilgante Problems

It was a stunning verdict, at least for the ones still grounded in logic, common sense, and legal reasoning.

A jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse on all counts after deliberating for nearly three and a half days. Jurors in the horrific case found that the then 17-year-old was not guilty of homicide, attempted homicide, or any other charges related to the August 2020 bloodshed and violence in Kenosha.

Much has been written about the foundations Rittenhouse started from that allowed for the teenager to drop out of school, have access to deadly weapons, and clearly not have the reasoning capabilities that many teenage males have at that age. After all, what must have been playing out in Rittenhouse’s thinking process to consider it was a good idea to carry an AR-15 into a city where massive protests were ongoing? Even a weeks-long trial with high-priced defense lawyers could not make that action seem sane to the viewers tuning in around the nation.

Much will be said about the outcome of the trial, the actions of the judge, and yes, the often poorly played hand of the prosecution team. But as civilized citizens, we must accept the verdict, even if we vehemently disagree with it.

As this chapter of Rittenhouse’s life turns a page (pun intended) it seems appropriate to consider another part of this larger story. A part that will find it much harder to pretend everything is back to normal.

I refer to the City of Kenosha.

What started this protracted and bloody story was the afternoon Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times in Kenosha by a police officer. From that event, we have followed the sadness, anger, simmering resentments, misunderstandings, along with an overall sense of utter frustration that is understandable from within the Black community.   

At the time of the multiple shots fired at Blake, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said the police shooting “wasn’t an accident”.

“This wasn’t bad police work. This felt like some sort of vendetta taken out on a member of our community.”

Barnes was correct, as what happened looked like something a rigged police system in some third-rate country would use on some political dissidents.  At the time I stated that It was a ghastly crime that these officers will need to be charged with and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

We know that did not happen as Kenosha officials announced that the officers involved in the shooting would not be charged.

Now, this morning vigilantism was given an absolute pass by a Kenosha jury in the Rittenhouse killings.

The racial split in Kenosha has not mended, and it will be asked in the days to come as a result of today’s verdict, how it is a community can not render appropriate justice for the violent crimes that have consumed it. They seem not to even try.

Meanwhile, the nation is watching Kenosha and asking lots of appropriate questions.

I wonder what the verdict would be in the #RittenhouseTrial if the defendant were a Black seventeen-year-old from another state who killed two people with an illegal assault weapon?” legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin tweeted.

That question just got more biting in light of the verdict.

Meanwhile, at city hall, the question to ponder in light of the events since August 2020 is what new business would wish to locate to a place that defines itself with such low standards?

And so it goes.

Conservatives And The Ungluing Of America

News outlets today are reporting a very troubling poll result.

Almost one-third of Republicans say they think violence may be necessary to solve the problems facing the United States, according to a new national survey by the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute. The finding is part of PRRI’s 12th annual American Values Survey released Monday which, among other things, highlights the continued impact of the same falsehoods and conspiracy theories that fueled the violent Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol nearly one year later.

What has been unleashed in the United States over the past months defies logic.

School board meetings are scenes of bombastic half-cocked parents with red faces screaming about mask mandates. Angry unionized public employees pout and stay home from their jobs because science shows they need to be vaccinated against a virus. Meanwhile, in Virginia, angry white voters claim critical race theory is the most important issue in the race for their governor. When some of those voters are further questioned they then state they have no real idea what critical race theory even is about.

The homegrown anger, the all-too-frequent bursts of outrage, and now even threatened violence from Republicans and conservatives should alert us to what they harbor within. While this poll is the latest data to underscore the problem, it is not the first to prove what exists within a portion of the electorate.

Too many Republicans looked at the seditious riot at the Capitol on January 6th and thought the violence was justified. They saw police officers beat and never even winced at the irony of prattling on about their deep respect for those who wear Blue as they watched them being injured and knowing later some died.

According to a Monmouth survey, two in every five Republicans said they considered the anger that led to the violence to have been at least partly justified.

The Founding Fathers, who knew a great deal about throwing off repression through violent means, also undertook the method of forging a new nation through a process of dialogue and compromise. That last part is what the angry mobs today never learned.

I have wondered over the past 10 months if the issues which are constructed by conservative talk radio and FOX News so to ensure ratings has not also created very troubling consequences. If every slight and perceived injury is ballooned for the conservative base into a gut-wrenching situation then what is left for that base to feel or compare it with when a truly undemocratic and dangerous attack on our institutions takes place? As on January 6th.

And so it goes.

Male Apprehended On Spaight St. After Multi-Car Police Effort

UPDATE

Kudos to the Madison Police Department as the armed robbery was reported to have occurred at roughly 11:11 A.M. and the sirens were howling on the 900 block of Spaight at approximately 11:15 this morning, followed only minutes later with the felon who had used a gun in the crime being taken into custody.  Thanks for MPD’s efforts and continued fine work for our city.

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Madison police arrested a man who allegedly robbed a downtown cafe Sunday morning.

According to the incident report, officers were sent to Ground Zero Coffee on 744 Williamson St. after a report of an armed robbery involving a handgun at 11:11 a.m. Police said the robber ran off with an unknown amount of cash and headed away from the State Capitol on Willy Street.

Deputies from a Dane County Boat Unit helped with checking the area and found someone at BB Clarke Beach who matched the robber’s description. The report said Nathaniel Homestead was changing his clothes before leading police on a chase.

Homestead faces tentative charges of armed robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Sunday morning at approximately 11:15 a series of back and forth police cars, with sirens blazing was seen and heard on Spaight Street.  With a number of cars then zooming to, and stopping on the 900 block, officers took high note of the lakeside portion between two homes.  It was there, as reported by observers, that a Caucasian male was apprehended and placed into the back of a squad car.  The person was seen running prior to the police’s arrival and then seen hiding behind bushes of a Spaight Street home.  Reports from some on the ground are that he then ran to the back of a lot and was in or near a boathouse when the police took him into custody.    Rumors of a drowning had been also running around at the time of the police activity, but there is no substance to those reports.

Thanks to the fine men and women in blue who performed their duties on this otherwise serene and warm day on the isthmus.

(We now send it back to the station…….Les Nessman reporting.)

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