Incarceration Nation

Putting an End to Capital Punishment

By Kevin Cooper

In order to engage in, and especially to win in any type of conflict that you are in, it is always useful to know your opponent’s thought process, their mindset, their religious and or political beliefs, their history, and damn near everything else that you can.

Then you must thoroughly examine everything you learn so that you will have more than just a basic understanding of your adversary. It helps in putting together a strategy that will help to win one’s struggle in the long run.

History has proven that some struggles take what seems like forever. This is most definitely true in matters of life and death, such as capital punishment. This ongoing struggle that we are now engaged in to finally defeat this system of revenge, retribution, racism, classism and outright showing one group of human beings’ inhumanity to their fellow human beings, is such a conflict that seems never ending, and it must be examined thoroughly.

While dates have changed, times have not, when it comes to who is now executed, and who’s not. The same poor, and people of color, especially African Americans that were first executed in the 17th century are the ones who are being executed today in the 21st century. The same types of people who allowed for, and did the executing way back then are still the ones doing it now—the rich, powerful, political and their supporters. Many of the people who support legal executions also have no problem with illegal executions, such as certain police officers gunning down poor Black and Latino youth on the streets of every city in this country. Many of these supporters also have some type of connection, directly or indirectly to the “Family Crow.” You remember Old Jim Crow—Segregation—and all of his other actions that impeded the lives of minority people. From African Americans to Native Americans and all others that were non-white; except when those certain white people helped the minority people, then they became outcasts.

Just as soon as many people started to believe that good old Jim Crow was finally dead, his distant cousin, New Jim Crow, arrived on the scene and brought with him mass incarceration of the same type of people that were on America’s plantations of yesteryear. While New Jim Crow—mass incarceration—was doing his thing, other members of the “Family Crow” came back to life. Not that they were really gone, but many people honestly thought that the old -isms, such as sexism, classism, religious prejudice, homophobia, and, of course, racism, were.

Even while there is an African American in the White House as President of this country, the “Family Crow” is alive and well and doing their thing, as usual!

In the years between the Old Jim Crow and the New Jim Crow, there has been one constant that kept the Family Crow united more than any other thing. That one thing was, and is, the death penalty. Capital punishment has always been part of what this family has stood for and participated in, directly or indirectly.

One of the many people who stood up to, and fought against Old Jim Crow was the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His wife, the late Mrs. Coretta Scott King also did her part in what I am about to write as well.

Within their lifetimes, they both, as well as the millions of poor people who stood with them, personally experienced the “Family Crow” at their worst. They experienced that family’s rage, and the rage of its supporters, which ran from the Southern outhouse all the way up to the Northern White House. Yet, each, at one point in their lives, even more than once, spoke out against the death penalty.

Even though capital punishment was not on their political agenda. Their organizations had no agenda about the use of, or the ending of capital punishment in this country. No political organization, except the NAACP, had the ending of capital punishment on its political agenda.

These organizations included, but aren’t limited to the following:

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)

The Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE)

The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

The National Urban League

The reason why this omission from their agendas is still important to this day is because the death penalty was and is used against the very people who’s civil and human rights they were fighting for. It was used against these very people, and not just historically, but damn near every day during this most turbulent period in our history.

Remember 14-year-old Emmett Till? If they had done more back then concerning capital punishment in this country, organizations such as the Campaign To End The Death Penalty either wouldn’t exist, or wouldn’t have to do all that they do to put a end to this historic crime against humanity!

The death penalty in that time period was the greatest threat to the movement because at anytime, day or night, a person could be executed at the whim of the powers that be. Especially Black people in the South where most of the above mentioned organizations were located.

Mr. and Mrs. King, in separate statements, did at different times, say the following concerning the death penalty in America.

The Rev. Dr. King stated:

“I do not think that God approves the death penalty for any crime, rape and murder included. Capital punishment is against the better judgment of modern criminology, and above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God!”

Mrs. King stated:

“An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation! Justice is never advanced in the taking of human life. Morality is never upheld by a legalized murder!”

Both statements are powerful, and both dealt with what is not within the hearts and minds of the people who support capital punishment. “Love and morality” are not within the people who want executions. “Hate and immorality” among other things are what drive these people to murder fellow human beings. Yet, most of those who support the death penalty claim to be God-loving and God-fearing people.

It is way past time for us to confront this hypocrisy as well as confront all the other lies and -isms not acknowledged and dealt with concerning the people who support the death penalty in America, and throughout the world. While different generations before us saw things as merely civil rights’ issues, we have gone way past that mindset and understand that these things are truly human rights issues. There can be no more important issue of our time than the human rights issue of capital punishment! This issue is a universal human rights issue. It’s not just limited to nations. So our finishing this ongoing and historical fight to end the death penalty in the world, but especially in certain states in this country, now falls in our collective hands here in the 21st century!

We must understand that some of the very organizational structures that were in place in the 20th century, which Dr. King and other prominent and everyday people fought against to gain their civil and human rights that they did, are still alive and with us today, even if in a different form, and or with a new name.

The distant relatives of the “Family Crow” who lived in the 19th and 20th centuries in America have new 21st century relatives to help to continue their family’s legacy of oppression and death. We too have new people to continue on in this fight, starting with the Campaign To End The Death Penalty and all of its members, including me. We will continue to stand up and speak out as well as to educate all people about this inhumane man made system of torture for death! Capital punishment is not in the interest of the great majority of people in America. It’s not in the interest of the majority of the people in the world!

Why? Because the majority of the people in this country and world are working people and poor people. Working people and poor people are the ones who have been, and still are being, executed. So therefore, capital punishment is not in their interests. The viewpoints of the majority of humanity can no longer be ignored. Not on this ever-smaller planet that we all must live on together. Our collective humanity cries out for and demands a much different and better world; a world that doesn’t allow the death penalty to exist; a world free from capital punishment.

Until then, we will continue this ongoing struggle to put an end to the death penalty.

Kevin Cooper is an innocent prisoner on Death Row in San Quentin State Prison. He is the subject of the book, Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper, by J. Patrick O’Connor.

Write to Kevin Cooper at:

Kevin Cooper C-65304, 4 EB 82

San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin, CA 94974