When I initially began writing this post, my mind was focused on the justice system. This week there were two death penalty cases in the news that set my brain cells ablaze in that special way that forces me to burn Google searches like they’re hot dogs on a grill. These two cases were interesting in their own rights, but they also led me to reading up on disparities in how the death penalty is applied in America.
Just hours before he was supposed to be put to death, Marcellus Williams received a stay of execution from the governor of Missouri. His stay was granted because there was new evidence involving DNA that could potentially exonerate Williams for the killing of Felicia Gayle in 2001. The testing was unavailable then, but testing on material on the murder weapon excluded Williams as a possible contributor to the DNA. It is not something that necessarily means that Williams is innocent, but it does cast doubt on the case put forth by the state.
In the other case, Mark Asay was executed in Florida for the 1988 murder of Robert McDowell and Robert Lee Booker in Jacksonville. His case piqued my interest because Asay was the very first white person in Florida to be executed for killing a black person since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. In that same time frame, Florida has executed many blacks for killing white people.
Reading that information on the second case mentioned got me to digging for statistics. I’m not a big fan of capital punishment, so I don’t really follow those cases very well. I remembered one other “first” in that Henry Francis Hayes was executed on June 6, 1997. His execution was the first KKK member in the state of Alabama that was convicted and executed for the lynching of a black person. Through all the decades upon decades of racial violence in my home state of Alabama throughout the 20th Century, the first KKK member who was executed for that violence was put to death at the tail end of the century. This train of thought led me to this information courtesy of the Washington Post:
Since the death penalty was reintroduced, the number of nonwhite people who’ve been executed has consistently been overrepresented. While most of those who are executed are white, they consistently make up a lower percentage of the population of those put to death than of the country on the whole.
More to the point, most white people who are executed are put to death for killing other white people. Most black people who are executed? Also executed for killing white people.
After reading this, I wondered how someone could utter the words “all lives matter” when our actions as a country disprove this. On top of what I was finding, we had the rally and death in Charlottesville which compounded things for me. There’s the new ban on transgender people serving in a volunteer military. Now, the president has pardoned Joe Arpaio, a former sheriff who was convicted of contempt of court for repeatedly violating the Constitution by targeting people based on their race after courts had ordered him to stop.
Now, if “all lives matter”, wouldn’t we all be protesting to protect the lives of Native Americans? From CNN in 2014:
In fact, despite the available statistical evidence, most people don’t know that Native Americans are most likely to be killed by police, compared with other racial groups. Native Americans make up about 0.8% of the population, yet account for 1.9% of police killings.
I don’t recall very many people out marching or attempting to shed light on the difficulties faced by Native Americans. Then again, at about 1% of the total population, many people probably don’t realize they exist beyond the pages of history books.
As much as I thought the justice system was broken, I’ve come to realize that the system operates just as our society does. Our society does not place equal value on our lives. We’re all filed away in little neat boxes whether we’re black, white, male, female, old, young, gay, straight, or whatever category is the flavor of the day. We’ve let those little neat boxes determine the value or worth of people as opposed to people being judged on the content of their character. If your boxes are of the “good” kind, you have a far easier time in navigating your way through society. If your boxes are not good, then it basically sucks to be you.
If all lives mattered, we wouldn’t be worried about transgender people wearing a uniform of our military. If all lives mattered, we wouldn’t be targeting people as illegal immigrants just because of their complexion. Furthermore, if all lives mattered, we wouldn’t have the leader of the country telling us through his actions that all lives matter, on many sides… many sides. Some just matter more than others.