March 28, 2007
Pardoned death row prisoner Stanley Howard:
The legal lynchings that still go on today
STANLEY HOWARD is a former death row prisoner who was pardoned by
then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan in 2003.
Stanley landed on death row because of the torturers of the Chicago Police
Department, who suffocated him with a typewriter cover while continuously
beating him until he confessed to a crime he didn't commit.
In prison, Stanley led the way in forming the Death Row 10--a group of
condemned prisoners who all endured similar police torture. Their struggle
from behind prison bars played an important part in building pressure on
Ryan to clear death row.
Still in prison for another crime he was falsely accused of, Stanley
continues to speak out against the death penalty and the criminal justice
system, writing regularly for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty's
newsletter the New Abolitionist.
In this article for Socialist Worker, Stanley looks at the latest
developments in the battle against the death penalty.
What you can do
You can contact Stanley by writing to: Stanley Howard #71620, R.R. 4 Box
196, Mount Sterling, IL 62353.
Read Stanley's column in the New Abolitionist newsletter, on the Campaign to
End the Death Penalty Web site. For Socialist Worker's coverage of the
struggle in Illinois that led to the clearing of death row, see our special
feature "The road to victory."
AS POINTED out by Socialist Worker, the American execution system is
grinding to a halt. The number of executions is dropping. And because the
public is learning more about the death penalty, juries are rebutting
bloodthirsty prosecutors by rejecting death sentences.
We closed the door to executing juveniles and the mentally retarded, and
now, doctors and anesthesiologists, who take an oath to preserve life, are
refusing to participate in the barbaric process of killing human beings. As
in the past with the electric chair, gas chamber and hangings, lethal
injection is now under fire for being nothing more than another form of
Because of this and much more, the death penalty is on hold in many states.
Some states are even considering abolishing it altogether.
I'm excited that the tide is turning on executions, but I'm disappointed
that the fact of it being flat-out racist has gotten lost in the debate.
Racism in the U.S. is as American as apple pie. It touches every aspect of
Black life--education, housing, health care, employment, the criminal
justice system and its machinery of death.
It can be blatant, like when President Bush sat idly by while thousands of
Blacks suffered and screamed for help during the Hurricane Katrina
fabulous job." Or it can be hidden, like when former Supreme Court Chief
Justice William Rehnquist purchased his Arizona home under a signed contract
that he would "never sell the property to a Black person."
But we cannot escape this obvious plague on society and humanity by ignoring
"The criminal justice issue," said Rev. Jesse Jackson and Minister Louis
Farrakhan during a historic November 2004 meeting, "is the most major civil
rights issue of our time that must be addressed."
We know that whites commit more crimes and more murders and use more drugs
in this country, but Blacks are being targeted and persecuted on a larger
scale. The weight of the police, courts and prison system falls more heavily
on Blacks than any other group.
Blacks are 12 percent of the U.S. population, but are 41 percent of its
prison population. Almost one in three Black men can expect to spend time in
prison at some point in their lives--compared to about one in 25 white men.
I've been incarcerated for over 22 years in the state of Illinois, and in
all the prisons I've been in (Pontiac, Menard, Stateville, Galesburg and
Western Illinois), they were and are overwhelmingly packed with Black men on
a much larger scale than the national average.
The U.S. Supreme Court banned capital punishment in 1972 on the basis that
it was being carried out in an arbitrary and capricious manner. The court
thought the problem could be rectified when it reinstated the death penalty
in 1976. But here we are 35 years later, dealing with the same racist and
unfair system of death.
Unfortunately, today's Supreme Court refuses to consider the statistical
facts as the 1972 court did. Today's court insists that prisoners prove they
were discriminated against as an individual, and not as a part of the
whole--which is virtually impossible.
We cannot depend on the courts and government to end racist practices when
they are part of the problem. We did not wait on the courts, the government
or popular opinion to change in order to demand an end to slavery,
segregation, Jim Crow laws or flying the Confederate flag. So we do not have
to wait to demand an end to the legal lynchings going on in concentration
camps across this nation.
If the criminal justice system is the "most major civil rights issue of our
time," then there is no difference between the lynchers of 14-year-old
Emmitt Till in 1955 and a racist government and society that continues to
lynch Blacks today, in a different way.
America has come a long way since the fight for civil rights, but everyone
knows that we have a long way yet to go. And knowing that we're living under
this cloud of racism, we must not allow them to take it out of the debate.
Regardless of polls and popular opinion, the racist death penalty must go.
Source : Socialist Worker