Abolition of the death penalty – and of capitalism – WW Commentary – Workers World

By Workers World Houston office

To understand the systemic cruelty and deep inequalities that persist in the system of criminal injustice in the United States, one need only look at the death penalty.

2011 Texas March to Abolish the Death Penalty

The death penalty has evolved from a rope to a chair to a needle. On this continent, it evolved directly from indigenous genocide and the enslavement of Africans on stolen indigenous lands. The death penalty persists, despite failing to deter crime and the racist justice system so often getting death verdicts wrong. In practice, it is racist and anti-poor. Those who do not have the capital, get the death penalty.

The state of Texas has executed more people in the modern era than the next six US states combined. The state has lynched 574 people since 1982.

The state that has executed the second highest number of people in the modern era is Virginia, with 113 executions. In 2020, Virginia was the first former Confederate state to abolish the death penalty, which is a big deal because legal lynchings have historically been concentrated in the South, coinciding with a history of slavery and genocide at the hands of colonizers.

Currently, there are 23 states without the death penalty, three with governor-imposed moratoria, and 24 states with the death penalty. Public support for capital punishment is waning, thanks in large part to activists around the world, who have collectively fought against its inhumanity for decades.

Positive movement against the death penalty

Despite the May 17 SCOTUS decision – denying two Arizona death row inmates, David Ramirez and Barry Jones, the right to appeal an ineffective attorney in federal court – there is still some positive movement against the death penalty, especially in Texas.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center:[I]In Harris County, prosecutors are challenging Houston Judge Natalia Cornelio’s refusal to set an execution date for death row inmate Arthur Brown to provide new counsel in time to determine if he is ineligible for sentencing death due to intellectual disability. In Nueces County, the Texas Attorney General’s office intervened in county proceedings to oppose District Attorney Mark Gonzalez’s motion to withdraw a death warrant executing John Henry Ramirez for the October 5, 2022. . . .

“Gonzalez, a former defense attorney, was elected in 2016 on a platform of criminal justice reform. In response to a motion filed by his office, the Nueces County District Court issued an order on April 12, 2022, setting an execution date for Ramirez. Two days later, citing his “firm belief that the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or anyone else” while serving as a Nueces County District Attorney, Gonzalez said filed a motion to withdraw the death warrant.” (Deathpenaltyinfo.org, May 27)

Delia Perez Meyer, who has a brother on Texas death row, said at a rally in Harlingen, Texas, to free death row prisoner Melissa Lucio: “This system is so flawed. There is falsification of evidence; there is withholding of evidence; there is collusion. There are a lot of terrible things going on in death row cases. The executions are flawed and archaic. It doesn’t matter if a person is innocent or guilty, no one should be executed. (Workers World, February 9, 2022)

In reference to Lucio’s case, State Rep. Jeff Leach – a staunch Republican supporter of the death penalty – recently said he supports a moratorium on capital punishment because his faith in the system that carries out these executions is quite fragile. This is unheard of in the world of Texas politics and indicates the shift in public confidence in the so-called “justice system” – on the way to abolition. (“Inside Texas Politics,” wfaa.com, April 29)

On the way to abolition

The death penalty itself is part of the legacy of slavery that we are working to abolish. From rope to chair to needle — and methods such as death by lethal injection, firing squad and gas chamber, still legal in places like South Carolina and Arizona — the capitalist state has many methods to kill the poor and oppressed.

Just as in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, there are hundreds of thousands of human beings imprisoned in the United States serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. Mumia calls this “slow death row” because the filthy conditions and extreme medical negligence behind bars often prove as deadly as an official execution date – just slower.

“Before the American era of mass incarceration took hold in the early 1970s, the number of individuals in prison was less than 200,000. Today it is 1.4 million; and more than 200,000 people are serving a life sentence – one in seven people in prison. More people are serving life sentences in America than there were people in prison serving time in 1970.” (sentencingproject.org, February 17, 2021, tinyurl.com/y3ehjbfu)

If we include the number of all members of the working class held captive in prisons, jails and detention centers, this would bring the total number under prison control to 1.9 million people in the United States (prisonpolicy. org, March 14)

Alongside capitalist cages, we live in a country where more than a million people have perished from a deadly respiratory virus, many of whom are dying in prisons. We live in a world where capitalist legislators are comfortable with gun violence massacres against children in school, against people of color shopping or at worship. We live in a world where the United States is spending billions of dollars on the war in Ukraine but has no plan to feed a population struggling in a new era of mass poverty.

We live in a world where the federal minimum wage is only twice the price of a gallon of gas, and many can’t even afford to drive to work if they don’t live nearby. . We live in a world where, as Angela Davis says, we have the freedom to starve rather than have our human needs met.

Capitalism, as it has been for so many members of the working class throughout history, is very much like a death sentence. Capitalism is racist, anti-poor and ableist in its modus operandi and is the enemy of all the oppressed. As we strive to abolish the death penalty, the abolition of capitalism looms on the horizon.

About Norman Griggs

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