In a tangible historical sense, anti-death penalty and anti-prison abolitionism constitute a continuation of anti-slavery abolitionism and are central to our contemporary struggles for racial, gender and economic equality…
The institutionalized racism of the death penalty is linked to the structural racism of imprisonment. Capital punishment is corporeal death; imprisonment is civil death. People of color are disproportionately enmeshed in both modes of punishment. As was repeatedly pointed out during the last efforts to save Troy Davis’s life, it is not only the case that there are proportionately more black people on the country’s death rows, but one is more likely to be sentenced to death if the crime involves a white person than if it involves a person of color. Black lives, Latino lives, and Native American lives are still considered to have a lower value that white lives.
But one does not resolve this inequity by calling for the sentencing of more white people to death or to prison. Or by sentencing more people to death or prison who injure or kill people of color. On the same day Troy Davis was executed Lawrence Brewer, a white man, was executed for the murder of a black man, James Byrd Jr, who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas in one of the most appalling lynchings of the recent period.
When George W. Bush was campaigning for the presidency in the year 2000, he boasted that Texas was moving toward racial equality because a white man (Lawrence Brewer) had been sentenced to death for lynching a black man (James Byrd).
We can not only ask whether James Byrd’s family and friends feel less pain as a result of the execution of their loved one’s murder, but we can also ask whether George W. Bush was correct — whether the execution of Lawrence Brewer had any impact whatever on the struggle to eliminate racism. I would answer both questions in the negative. No doubt James Byrd’s son would agree, since he vigorously campaigned to spare his father’s murderer, even though Brewer refused to express remorse. Ross Byrd, James Byrd’s son, who remains involved in the organization Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, is one of the most courageous figures in the movement against capital punishment.
The apparatus of capital punishment is at the center of the Prison Industrial Complex. Prison abolition today involves the dismantling of the entire complex.
…We need a world without the death penalty; we need a world without prisons; we need a world in which human problems are taken seriously, a world whose human inhabitants care about the oceans, the soil, the plants and the other animals with whom we share the planet. We need a world populated by people who are dedicated to eradicating violence, not perpetuating it through the persistence of the prison.
(In case you all stopped following the should-Zimmerman-get-the-death-penalty conversation, here’s a relevant quote)