Behind Bars

From Trees to Needles

Message from Mumia Abu-Jamal

Friends, Brothers, Sisters: Ona Move!

The anti-death penalty movement is an offshoot of the global human rights movement, as expressed by private associations, and later, by a variety of governments.

It is noteworthy, then, for us to cite the state abolition of the death penalty in Kenya, in 2009.

We should also note the fact that the rate of juries meting out death sentences has fallen to its lowest in 30 years.

And finally, several months ago, the group that was perhaps most instrumental in fashioning the
present death penalty, The American Law Institute, announced it would no longer participate in formulating laws governing the death penalty. The ALI, a distinguished group of 4,000 judges, law professors, and lawyers, were the people who
initially proposed the aggravating and mitigating circumstances that the U.S. Supreme Court adopted
in 1976 when it reinstated the
death penalty.

And yet, despite this, the death penalty is alive and well in America.


It makes no economic sense, but politicians are wedded to it.

That’s because at its core, the death penalty derives from, and thus replaces, lynch law. Is it mere coincidence that the states which are most active in capital punishment are Southern ones? This is also generally true when we examine the establishment and expansion of the American prison system. After the Civil War, when slavery was abolished by law, states in the former confederacy established the convict lease system, where prisoners worked, without pay, for the state. One man, observing the dreadful loss of life and health for such people, called it “worse than slavery.”

In essence, these states made a private institution a public one—and both Black men and women became “slaves of the state.”

The U.S. death penalty system performs a similar function. It socialized, or made public, that which had been heretofore the province of individuals—lynchings., March 10, 2010