a moment of silence

yesterday in our country two men were executed for crimes they had been convicted of, each more than a decade ago.

in georgia, troy davis, convicted of shooting off-duty police officer mark macphail during a robbery, killing him instantly in 1989.

in texas, lawrence brewer, a self-proclaimed white supremacist convicted of the hate crime of killing james byrd by dragging him from a truck by a chain in 1998.  

in both cases the families of the victims made statements during the day- mark macphail's mother wanted the execution of davis to proceed so that she and her family could have closure and move on.  james byrd's son protested the execution of brewer, saying, 'you can't fight murder with murder'.  

in both cases people protested the executions.  there was a lot of suggestion that troy davis was innocent.  that he was in fact a victim of a judicial system that disproportionally negatively affects black people.  and while there was very little suggestion that lawrence brewer was innocent, his case was seen as an opportunity to protest the death penalty in general-- that we, as a nation, do not have the right to take the life of someone, EVEN someone who has committed such a heinous act.  both protests centered on questions of race.  and in both cases, the people protesting were mostly black.

african americans make up 12% of our national population, yet 40% of people on death row are black.  here are some thoughts from former federal prosecutor and professor of law at george washington university paul butler in an interview on npr in 2005:

"virtually everybody on death row is a poor person. They're charged with crimes where often they have ineffective lawyers and the reason that they get the death penalty isn't so much based on the crime they committed but based on factors that really shouldn't be relevant, like the quality of their lawyer, and like whether the person they killed was white or black. If you're--kill a white person, you're much more likely to get the death penalty than if you kill a black person. And if you're an African-American who kills a white person, that's the most common category of people who get the death penalty."

this interview was about tookie williams, a man convicted of killing four people in the course of a 1979 robbery-- he was also the founder of the street gang 'the crips' in L.A. in 1969.  in the early nineties, on death row, he changed his life and behavior-- came out strongly against gangs, against violence, wrote children's books-- and ultimately affected many, many young people in a very positive way.  williams was executed in december, 2005, two weeks after this interview.  butler continues,

"You know, regardless of whether Mr. Williams is guilty or not, he disputes his guilt. The question is whether there's a role for mercy and forgiveness in our justice system. And people are still punished harshly even when their sentences are commuted. It's just that the ultimate sanction, execution, isn't imposed. So we look at somebody like Mr. Williams, who's been on death row for decades; he's reformed his life. He's rehabilitated. And so the issue is whether, based on the worst day of his life, he should be condemned or whether--again, not that he shouldn't be punished, but just whether he should be allowed to live".

i know this is not a typical blog post-- usually i write about houses and home, shopkeeping and life-- but in my home, this has been the only topic for the last several days--

and this morning?  a moment of silence in recognition of two people's lives having ended.


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