Incarceration Nation

Pennsylvania Death Penalty Moratorium

Decision doesn’t consider racism

By Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall

Governor Tom Wolf recently announced a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania. The moratorium will stay in effect until he receives and reviews an expected report from a state task force on capital punishment, and until all concerns raised in that report are addressed.

Governor Wolf said in a statement, “This decision is based on a flawed system that has proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and expensive.”

According to Governor Wolf’s February 13th memorandum explaining his decision, PA governors have signed 434 death warrants in 40 years, but only executed three people. Currently, there are 186 people on death row in PA.

The usual ultra right-wing political elements of the PA District Attorneys Association and the Fraternal Order of Police came out in full opposition to Governor Wolf’s decision of a death penalty moratorium. Philly’s D.A., Seth Williams, and Northampton County’s D.A., John Morganelli, joined in opposition to the moratorium, calling it “unlawful” and expressing that they may sue Governor Wolf to enforce the death penalty.

However, former D.A. for Lawrence County, Mathew T. Mangino, criminal defense attorney David Rudovsky, the PA Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers supported Governor Wolf’s decision authorizing the moratorium stating, “This is another important step toward the eventual elimination of a barbaric practice that has no place in a modern criminal justice system.”

Politicians list a number of concerns with the capital punishment system, namely the death penalty is a broken system, but none of them will address the elephant in the room of institutional racism within the legal system.

Racism on the courts is undeniable. In the past half-century there have been numerous government and private advocacy groups’ studies and reports on race and class discrimination in the American legal system. All have concluded that there is systematic racism in the courts against poor African American and Latino peoples, especially in relation to the application of the death penalty.

Nonetheless, politicians would rather skirt around the main reason why a death penalty moratorium is needed and why the death penalty must be abolished in the United States. Politicians would rather say that the capital punishment system is flawed, broken, ineffective, unjust, and expensive, than say it’s a barbaric punishment that doesn’t deter crime, and that it continues to be applied in a racially discriminatory manner against African Americans and Latinos due to institutional racism within the legal system. I guess that’s what happens when the white majority establishment continues to pretend that racism no longer exists in America while continuing to benefit from institutional white supremacy. Whatever happened to simply calling a spade, a spade?

The fact is: “justice” and “discrimination” are polar opposites and can’t occupy the same space. Therefore, America can’t have a criminal “Justice” system that practices race and class discrimination and call it “Justice.” That would be tantamount to putting a wig and lipstick on a pig and calling it “Lady Justice!”

Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall is co-founder and Editor of The Movement magazine, Prison Radio correspondent, and founding member of the Human Rights Coalition., February 25, 2015

Write to:

Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshsall #BE7826

SCI-Rockview, Box-A

Bellefonte, PA 16823