Incarceration Nation

The Black Ones Too

By Kevin Cooper

During the recent events surrounding the murder of unarmed Black males by white police officers in this country, it has been pointed out, and correctly so, that America has a deep and tortured history concerning the murders of Blacks by whites—legally and illegally!

But what has, for the most part, been left out of this real life and death conversation is the fact that Black police officers have done, and are still doing, the same thing as their white police partners when it comes to shooting, murdering, or being an accessory before, during, or after the deadly incident.

There have always been, and will always be, Black people, who for one reason or another, find themselves working alongside the white people who are murdering us in one form or another each and every day of our lives.

This truth reminds me of 2004, when I came within three-hours and 42 minutes of being executed by the state of California at San Quentin prison. I had known for quite a long time that there was a Black man who was the spokesman to the media for this institution whenever it came to executions and other events. I honestly had no idea, however, that Black men were part of this prison’s execution squad.

That’s until I found myself inside the death chamber waiting room being sized up by about 12 members of that squad. I was sized up, questioned and then strip-searched. Ten members of this squad were white men, just as I had expected. That’s because these typical people have a very real place in history as being paid, or in this case, volunteering, to be executioners. However, I must admit that I was a bit shocked to see two Black men volunteering to murder me. Why I was shocked I am not sure, but I was. Maybe it was because of all the history books that I have read about my ancestors and our fight for freedom within this country. In this reading and learning I found that the vast majority of murders, including lynchings and executions of Blacks in America have happened at the hands of whites.

While I had also learned in my reading that there were certain Africans who sold other Africans to slave catchers in Africa, and those slaves were sent throughout the world, including to America, I learned that certain slaves on certain plantations whipped their fellow slaves, injured their fellow slaves, and if told to, murdered their fellow slaves whenever the white man told them to do so. Some free Black people owned other Blacks as slaves too. (There are many different reasons for this historical fact, including protecting their family members.)

Even with all this knowledge, I still wasn’t prepared to see two Black men as executioners when this state of California went about its task of trying to murder me. Most, not all, but most of the Black prison guards who worked on death row told me and other Black males who are on death row that they were against the death penalty. They expressed that our history in this country, and their knowledge of it, made them against this type of punishment! (I guess this is why certain white district attorneys try so very hard to keep Black people off of death penalty juries.)

These two big burly Black men who were members of this particular execution squad had no rank. They were just plain old prison guards who were very, very large in size. In appearance, they looked like professional football players who made their living tackling people. For the purpose of being on the execution squad, they were the muscle. While I was standing in front of them all, butt naked, I was searched, examined, and inspected just like any slave on the auction block that I read about in the books on American history.

In my mind I was screaming at them both, asking them, “What the fuck are you doing helping them to murder me? Don’t you know our history? Don’t you know what you’re doing?” Asking them in my mind how could they be part of any execution team, especially the one that was about to murder me.

I said all of that and more in my mind, heart, and spirit, but not a word came out of my mouth, That was the first and the last time I ever saw those two Black men. That’s because at 8:17 P.M., the U.S. Supreme Court sent word that they would not lift the stay of execution that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had granted me earlier that day, After that, everyone went their own separate ways. Me, I went back to a cell on death row, and them, wherever people like them go.

While many of us who are Black would like to think and/or believe that all of our oppression, pain, death, and inhumanity comes from just white people, or white men, I want to remind everyone, including myself, that there are ‘The Black Ones Too’ who participate in these crimes against humanity as well.

While we Black people, or some of us, expect to receive ill treatment by the majority of white people. We are shocked, or some of us are shocked, to say the least, or hurt, and feel betrayed when we see or learn about one of our own doing to us what we are standing up against, fighting for and dying for to stop others from doing this to us.

Just as we are standing up and speaking out and telling the whole world that Black Lives Matter! Just as we are at war with the white oppressors and oppression. We must stand up and speak out against all oppression because if we don’t we are setting ourselves up to be oppressed by our own people too. This we cannot do!

In struggle and solidarity from Death Row at San Quentin Prison.

—May 2015

Kevin Cooper is an innocent man on San Quentin’s Death Row in California. He continues to struggle for exoneration and to abolish the death penalty in the whole U.S.

Write to Kevin Cooper at:

Kevin Cooper C-65304, 4 EB 82

San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin, CA 94974