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Death penalty in Pennsylvania

Saleem with his father
 
The State of Pennsylvania’s attempt to execute Mumia Abu Jamal, former member of the Black Panther Party and Move supporter for the alleged murder of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981 galvanized an international coalition of supporters who worked tirelessly to save Mumia from the death chamber.
 
In 2012 the coalition succeeded when after years of litigation Mumia’s death sentence was overturned and he was resentenced to the other death sentence, life imprisonment with parole.
 
The resentencing of Mumia began another long battle against the state of Pennsylvania’s death penalty.  Hundreds of other prisoners languish on death row in Pennsylvania, many innocent and many under questionable convictions.
 
Yet, even if the majority of the men and women awaiting capital punishment are not innocent or were not sentenced to death under questionable convictions, is the state justified in murdering them?
 
By extension, if the majority of  the men and women sentenced to death in the United States are not innocent or are not sentenced to death under questionable convictions, should the state possess the authority to execute them?
 
The response to this question should emphatically be “No!”
 
From a historical standpoint the State of Pennsylvania, and by extension the United States, application of law has never been rooted in ethics or justice. The present criminal judicial system in the United States is a  by-product  of  a system rooted in white supremacy.
 
The application of capital punishment, i.e. the Death Penalty in the United States operates under the assumption/principle that the state’s authority rests upon a foundation of legitimacy.
 
Yet the United States does not rest on a foundation of legitimacy, neither does any of its institutions.
 
To the contrary, the United States historical foundation is built on genocide and chattel slavery, both of which capture the ethos of capital punishment in this country.
 
Capital punishment had been instrumental in the genocide campaign against Native Americans, it was state sponsored capital punishment imposed on an entire population and applied on a massive scale, while the institution of chattel slavery was enforced and maintained through capital punishment against enslaved Africans.
 
From a more contemporary perspective, the institution of Jim Crow terror and segregation was maintained through an informal state-sponsored reign of capital punishment in the form of the lynch mob.
 
It was often elected politicians and law enforcement officers responsible for upholding the law who organized the lynch mobs. They were responsible for the investigations of these very brutal murders that they themselves committed.
 
What does this have to do with modern capital punishment?
 
Modern capital punishment is rooted in the historical experience of the lynch mob, for as the saying goes, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.
 
The foremost proponents of legal lynching today are judges, politicians and district attorney’s responsible for enforcing the law. They operate a modern day lynch mob and act under the guise of the law.
 
Lynn Abraham, Philadelphia’s former judge and later district attorney, once dubbed “America’s deadliest da,” because she was responsible for sending almost 60% of the men and women to Death Row in Pennsylvania.
 
Lynn Abraham embraced this ghoulish title and distinction with pride, perhaps with the same pride the racist Alabama Sheriff “Bull” Conners exhibited when he was called the deadliest sheriff in America after unleashing white mobs on defenseless civil rights protesters during the Civil Rights Movement.
 
Racism was so embedded in the soil of Philadelphia’s district attorney office that in 1998, a training tape was leaked that showed Lynn Abraham’s deputy, Jack McMahon, instructing assistant district attorneys how to exclude minorities from jury’s in capital cases.
 
Incredibly, when prisoners on death row challenged their convictions based on the exclusion of minorities on their juries following the airing of the training tape, the state’s supreme court refused to overturn their sentences, nor were any substantive changes/reforms made within the Philadelphia district attorney’s office.
 
In 2012, with much praise and pride, the first African was elected district attorney of Philadelphia following Lynn Abraham’s departure from the office.
 
New black district attorney, same old system
 
Seth Williams came into the district attorney’s office as an outsider, promising a new era, however it is difficult to identify anything new by way of reforms that Mr. Williams attempted to implement. It appears to be business as usual.
 
An example is the district attorney’s office position in the case of Terrance Williams.
 
Terrance Williams was sentenced to death in the mid-80s in Philadelphia following a conviction for allegedly murdering a black pastor who was allegedly sexually abusing him.
 
After languishing on death row for over 20 years, an execution date was set for Terrance Williams last year. Only days before his execution was Terrence Williams’ defense team able to get a stay of execution based on the discovery of new evidence that supports Terrence Williams case of sexual abuse.
 
What was the reaction of district attorney Seth Williams? Instead of allowing Terrence Williams defense team to introduce the evidence in court, Seth Williams personally ordered his office to appeal the stay of execution to the Pennsylvania supreme court requesting the court lift the stay of execution and proceed with the state-sanctioned lynching of Terrence Williams.
 
The district attorney’s reason for requesting the lift of the stay of execution is not because the evidence Terrence Williams used to gain the stay was false, but rather because he could have raised the evidence 20 years ago at his trial.
 
So for Philadelphia’s first black district attorney the question of whether the state should or should not murder a Black man comes down to a question not of innocence on the scales of justice  but rather whether or not procedural rules were followed.
 
We would expect more from the first black district attorney of Philadelphia however, the black community of Philadelphia has been disappointed and let down by other so-called trailblazing black “first” leaders, such as former mayor Wilson Goode, who ordered a bomb dropped on MOVE Headquarters in 1985 that killed defenseless women and children.
 
What Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams should be doing is ordering his office to review and repeal the death sentences imposed by his office in the city of Philadelphia.
 
If he had any decency, he would not step so readily into the hangman’s role of his predecessor, Lynn Abraham, or continue to an entrenched insidious form of racism to exist under the guise of “justice.”
 
The state has no moral or legal authority to murder any African
 
The larger question is how do the states and federal government assume they have the legitimacy to execute any African, or anyone for that matter?
 
This is a society built on genocide, mass murder of people of color, mass exploitation of African labor, and continued gross inequalities in all walks of life for African’s and people of color. Not to mention mass imprisonment and a poor educational system that fast tracks African youth into the prison system or breeds idiots with PhD’s.
 
How can the state assert an ethical authority to murder someone for premeditated murder or callous indifference to human life when this country and its laws were built on the premeditated murder of Native American’s and callous indifference to the lives of African’s?
 
The state has no moral or legal authority to murder any African, regardless of the guilt or innocence.
 
When one looks at the crimes committed by the United States upon the peoples of the world, the only punishment it is deserving of is capital punishment. If ever there was a habitual offender in need of terminal punishment, it is these United States of America.
 
Based on its criminal record, more so than any prisoner on death row in this country, the United States has proven itself beyond hope or redemption.
 
 
Write to Robert Saleem Holbrook at:
Robert Saleem Holbrook #BL-5140
SCI-Coal Township
1 Kelley Drive
Coal Township, PA 17866
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