Political Prisoners

Innocence Makes No Difference

By Kevin Cooper

I, Kevin Cooper, reside on death row at California’s San Quentin State Prison, convicted for murders I did not commit. I have come to realize a very real truth: When it comes to dealing with the government, including the state and federal court system, innocence makes no difference. Finality does.

The only thing that seems to make a difference is winning at any cost. Innocence in and of itself has never stopped this government from murdering people, imprisoning people, executing people, or in the case of war, dropping bombs on people. Innocent people.

The only true measuring stick that we have is this country’s history of dealing with innocent people when it comes to certain governmental policies.

The people who make up the government of the United States—who claim to be better than the people who they murder, execute, imprison, and bomb—have one agenda: winning, and winning by any means necessary. Most of them have prejudices of all kinds—racism, classism, homophobia, sexism, and all the rest that self-righteous human beings have but won’t admit to.

The fact is, this country was founded on killing innocent people—our native peoples and the Mexicans who owned California. It was built on enslaving and killing innocent peoples, the Africans and their descendants, and other poor people who were forced to work as indentured servants and sharecroppers.

During every war that this country has waged, innocent people have been affected, either by being killed or by being scapegoated, as were the Japanese Americans interned in World War II.

The criminal justice system has this same mindset, and has often worked hand in hand with other government departments in imposing the will of the old boys network.

The United States Supreme Court stated in its 1993 U.S. Supreme Court Herrera decision, in which Chief Justice Renquist ruled, that, “In criminal cases the state trial is the paramount event for determining the defendant’s guilt or innocence.” Federal courts do not sit to correct errors of fact, but to ensure that individuals are not imprisoned in violation of the U.S. constitution. So, if an innocent person imprisoned or on death row facing an execution can’t prove a violation of his or her U.S. constitutional rights, that person will stay imprisoned or be executed.

This should tell everyone that innocence makes no difference when it comes to the U.S. government or the criminal justice system. And, this mindset is not just used on or against human beings; it also includes Mother Earth herself.

From the birds and the air in which they fly, to the animals, plants, insects, trees and the ground which they live or grow out of, this mind set of destroying innocent life comes into play. The water and all life that lives in the water is also included in this, because these people honestly believe that they own all of these things, and have the god-given right to rule over them, or destroy them.

Since a certain group of people have built a system maintained by the killing of innocent peoples and animals, no one today can be surprised that innocence makes no difference to that select group who make and enforce the laws in this country.

In the ghettos and poor communities of this country, the police very often shoot and kill innocent people, and get away with it. The military knows for a fact that they will kill innocent people in their military campaigns, yet that doesn’t stop them, and they get away with it. This government has laid the foundation for killing innocent people throughout its history.

During this one-sided war in Afghanistan, when innocent people are proved to have been bombed and killed, government representatives say, “We regret the loss of innocent life, but this is a consequence of war.” It does not have to be this way, but it is, and it will stay this way as long as innocence makes no difference.

The sanctions that this country placed on Iraq do not affect its leaders, especially Sadam Hussein, and the government knows this. The only people who are truly affected are the innocent ones, mainly children. They are dying from hunger, lack of medical care, and every other preventable ailment inflicted upon them. Yet this government doesn’t care because innocence makes no difference, whether it’s foreign or domestic.

Whenever you have a system that knowingly and willingly puts innocent human being’s lives at risk, one must question this system and the people who run this system. Those involved in this death penalty system know that innocent people have been executed. The system is controlled by humans, and humans make mistakes. Yet this is not enough to stop this system as a whole.

Institutional racism is a very real and proven fact of life in America, yet the people within these institutions refuse to acknowledge this truth. In fact, it honestly appears that they don’t give a damn. They do care about their own agenda, which in the majority of cases doesn’t include us poor people and people of color. It most often excludes us, and to this degree they want to exclude us from living.

Sometimes, in order to do this, they have to break or ignore their own laws, while at the same time make new laws, which they use to enforce their will. Some of us pay a price for this. Our innocence makes no difference.

In struggle from death row,

Kevin Cooper

—Reprinted from