Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Do you oppose the death penalty?

Let me state up front that I do.  Unequivocally.  Even when I do not agree with the crime that put a person on death row. Nor do I believe that everyone on Death Row is guilty – but that is a subject for another diary.

I was looking at a poll attached to a recent diary by Meteor Blades at Daily Kos.

Open thread for night owls: Illinois bans capital punishment and it seems from those results,  55% of those who voted, 2787 votes out of 5002 votes, agreed with “No, I oppose the death penalty in all circumstances.”

I now submit this news (which I did not see diaried here) for the consideration of those 2787 Kossaks who voted against (and hopefully others) from Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now:

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s sentence overturned

she reports:

The death-penalty case of Mumia Abu-Jamal took a surprising turn this week, as a federal appeals court declared, for the second time, that Abu-Jamal’s death sentence was unconstitutional. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Philadelphia, found that the sentencing instructions the jury received, and the verdict form they had to use in the sentencing, were unclear. While the disputes surrounding Abu-Jamal’s guilt or innocence were not addressed, the case highlights inherent problems with the death penalty and the criminal-justice system, especially the role played by race.

Early on Dec. 9, 1981, Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner pulled over a car driven by William Cook, Abu-Jamal’s brother. What happened next is in dispute. Shots were fired, and both Officer Faulkner and Abu-Jamal were shot. Faulkner died, and Abu-Jamal was found guilty of his murder in a court case presided over by Judge Albert Sabo, who was widely considered to be a racist.

This latest decision by the Court of Appeals relates directly to Sabo’s conduct of the sentencing phase of Abu-Jamal’s court case. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is considering separate arguments surrounding whether or not Abu-Jamal received a fair trial at all. What the Court of Appeals unanimously found this week is that he did not receive a fair sentencing. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has decided to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying, “The right thing for us to do is to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this and to make a ruling on it.”  As a result of this ruling, Abu-Jamal could get a new, full sentencing hearing, in court, before a jury. In such a hearing, the jury would be given clear instructions on how to decide between applying a sentence of life in prison versus the death penalty, something the court found he did not receive back in 1982. At best, Abu-Jamal would be removed from the cruel confines of solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s death row at SCI Greene.

I am well aware of the fractious history here at Daily Kos concerning any mention of Mumia’s case. When I first started reading and posting here it took me by surprise.

I am also aware, that since I got here in 2008 – that many Kossaks have developed a better understanding around the issue of solitary confinement, and we also now have a fine weekly series that deals with the entire so-called justice system in America – Criminal InJustice Kos.

My own position on Mumia’s guilt, innocence, or whether or not he should have been given a capital sentence has already been expressed here in the past.

I admit bias upfront.  We were in the BPP together.   I knew him as Wes Cook.  I also knew his work as a journalist in Philly.  

I have read all of the books he has published since he has been in solitary – and supported his efforts to fight for the rights of incarcerees – even as death hangs over his head.

Since Daily Kos is a website that has a wide readership – and many Kossaks list themselves in the progressive column around criminal justice issues, I found it curious that Mumia bashing had become almost a sport there.  Harsh on my part?  Yes.  Factual.  Yes.

If you examine diaries posted byHansBennett on Mumia’s case you will understand my complaint.

Yes – a lot of that  nastiness was over the “did he” or “didn’t he” debate.  

I’m not here to discuss that.  I am here to say that a man, with progressive politics – who has written much that we need to hear – regardless of how we feel about his “guilt” or “innocence”  has a chance to remain alive.  

He has been sitting on Death Row for 29 years.

During that time he has miraculously remained sane – and committed to the same principles he fought for as a Panther, and that many of us espouse here.

Amy Goodman does fine work – which many of you support and cite.  Juan Gonzalez, her co-host and co-producer has a long history as an activist and progressive.  I have known Juan since 1968.  Dr. Johanna Fernandez, someone I also respect has recently produced a film on Mumia. and the broader issues his case raises.   Perhaps a few of you will watch it.

Justice on Trial

Mumia Abu-Jamal is the most recognized death row inmate in the world today. In 1982, he was was tried and convicted for the murder of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Since then, the Abu-Jamal trial proceedings have come under scrutiny and today his case is one of the most contested legal cases in modern American history. A former Black Panther and now renowned author, his books and writings in venues as diverse as the Yale Law Review, Forbes, Nation and street-papers for the homeless, have led many to hail him “the voice of the voiceless.”

Justice on Trial navigates the tempest of the Abu-Jamal trial by reviewing the known facts of the case. It demonstrates that the major violations in the Abu-Jamal case — judicial bias, prosecutorial misconduct, racial discrimination in jury selection, police corruption and tampering with evidence to obtain a conviction–  are not special to this case. Instead, they are commonly practiced within the criminal justice system and account for the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and Latinos in the United States. The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is a microcosm of greater problems in the criminal justice system in the United States today. The attention that its many violations have received make the Abu-Jamal case one of the most important civil rights cases of our time.

But what is more important, for me, is that people set aside any pre-conceived opinions about Mumia and read some of the things he has written.  

Perhaps you can start with: Live from Death Row (from a review by Helen Halyard)

Live from Death Row, a compilation of short essays, paints a chilling picture of the systematic physical and psychological torture facing those, the innocent along with the guilty, who find themselves behind bars. Explaining what it is like for death row prisoners, Abu-Jamal says: “Life here oscillates between the banal and the bizarre. Unlike other prisoners, death row inmates are not ‘doing time.’ Freedom does not shine at the end of the tunnel. Rather, the end of the tunnel brings extinction. Thus, for many here, there is no hope.” There are even some on death row who have asked to be executed in order to end this torture. In a Florida case, cited by Mumia, a death row inmate wrote to then Governor Lawton Chiles who more than willingly obliged the man and put
him to death. “A flight to death, then, is often a flight from the soul-killing conditions of death row,” Mumia writes.

Death row inmates are denied even the right to have physical contact during visits. While Mumia was happy to see his young daughter during her first visit, he writes, the visit caused him considerable anguish and pain. Describing how her tiny fists banged against the glass separating them, the following words echoed in his consciousness for a long time, “‘Why can’t I hug him? Why can’t we kiss? Why can’t I sit in his lap? Why can’t we touch? Why not?'” “Non-contact visits” lead to the severing of ties between the inmates and their families, the writer notes. Abu-Jamal quotes the late psychiatrist Karl Menninger, who described non-contact visiting as “the most unpleasant and the most disturbing detail in the whole prison and a practice that constitutes a violation of ordinary principles of humanity…. It’s such a painful sight that I don’t stay but a minute or two as a rule. It’s a painful thing…. I feel so sorry for them, so ashamed of myself that I get out of the room.”

What visitors do not see is the humiliating and unnecessary body-cavity strip search inmates are subjected to before and after each visit. Once the prisoner is naked, every single part of the body is inspected. Inmates have lodged repeated protests of this practice, but to no avail.


From another review:

Except for one passing mention in the final essay, Abu-Jamal doesn’t discuss his own case, but in an appendix to the book, Civil Rights attorney Leonard Weinglass, who is handling Abu-Jamal’s appeal, briefly describes the killing of Daniel Faulkner and wounding of Abu-Jamal, questions some of the primary evidence in the case, then discusses at some length the bizarre trial in which Abu-Jamal was denied the right to represent himself and was instead represented by a court-assigned lawyer who knew almost nothing of the case and was allowed almost no funds with which to conduct a defense. Weinglass also describes the perhaps unique end of the trial, when the judge permitted prosecutors to cross-examine Abu-Jamal on his sentencing plea, which let them put before the jury such otherwise inadmissible and peripheral items as Abu-Jamal’s membership in the Black Panthers when he was sixteen years old, twelve years earlier.

Abu-Jamal’s essays are often insightful, objective, and moving; a few are polemical and myopic. This range is hardly surprising from someone locked away, without vital conversation for thirteen years, much of it in solitary. The value of these essays is exactly the mixture of their immediacy, their parochialism, their anger, and their insight. I was particularly moved by the day-to-day stuff: the guy who gets tired of it all and hangs himself by a bedsheet; the sudden perception that there are two exercise yards, one for whites and one for blacks; the descriptions of guards losing it and whacking away with their clubs.

Goodman closes with this:

Despite his solitary confinement, Abu-Jamal has continued his work as a journalist. His weekly radio commentaries are broadcast from coast to coast. He is the author of six books. He was recently invited to present to a conference on racial imprisonment at Princeton University. He said (through a cellphone held up to a microphone): “Vast numbers of men, women and juveniles … populate the prison industrial complex here in America. As many of you know, the U.S., with barely 5 percent of the world’s population, imprisons 25 percent of the world’s prisoners … the numbers of imprisoned blacks here rivals and exceeds South Africa’s hated apartheid system during its height.”

The United States clings to the death penalty, alone in the industrialized world. Instead, it stands with China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Yemen as the world’s most frequent executioners.

I will repeat what I said above.

I do not support the death penalty.

I will add:

I do not support the conditions of Mumia’s confinement, nor the conditions faced by thousands in our hellholes of prisons across the US.

I hope you will support his chance to have the DP removed, but more importantly that you will actively support efforts to rid our nation of capital punishment.

(this diary is cross-posted from Daily Kos with minor changes)


  1. …because things are so different over here. The last person was executed in the UK when I was a small child. We’ve kept to our abolition of the Death Penalty since the 60s, despite public support for hanging. But this is one of the areas where representative politics holds: the legislators who have to actually do the killing should have the say on whether it’s legal

    But to cross post what I said on Kos

    The death penalty, banned in the UK in my youth, is now part of the European Charter on Human Rights, and therefore illegal throughout the EU.

    Along with religion and guns… this is one area where the Atlantic could not be wider.

    I look forward to the discussions below and whatever Mumia has or hasn’t done, inhuman treatment, cruel and unusual punishments – done with the cold calculated hand of the state – are egregious crimes in my mind. They do nothing to recify previous wrongs, only compound them.

    And of course, as DNA testing has proven, hundreds of innocent people have already been murdered by the state in the US.

    I will support you in anyway I can on this, Deo, as well as the great work by Amnesty and various lawyers in the US.

    If anyone has any further doubts about the Death Penalty beyond reading this diary, they should watch Dead Man Walking, and even better, Kieslowski’s Short Film About Killing

    State murder is no better than individual murder.

  2. IL JimP

    in all instances and was pretty proud that my state very officially abolished it (it had been functionally abolished with the moratorium for awhile).  I don’t think the state should be the business of revenge killing.  Life w/o parole is a suitable punishment for the worst offenders.  

  3. including treason. I am glad my home state has never executed anyone. The only execution since Michigan became a state was a federal execution. Wisconsin is very similar. They abolished the death penalty a long time ago. Only one person was ever executed under the old law.

    The death penalty is only one aspect of the U.S. justice system that I want to see changed. The whole system needs to be overhauled from the streets to the prisons. In my opinion, we desperately need change. Unfortunately the changes I see being made are all in the wrong direction.  

  4. fogiv

    What’s the point?

    (a) deters others from committing capital offenses

    (b) permanently prevents subject criminal from  ever committing another crime

    (c) revenge / retribution

    Ok, sounds good. Except (b) takes forever, and generally costs tons of tax payer money, and (a), which is ostensibly the primary purpose, doesn’t work. The death penalty isn’t an effective deterrent…like at all.

    Now, I can stand here all day and tell you we have the best justice system the world has ever known, and I’d be mostly right. But only in principle, and rarely in practice. I love the statue with the scales (cover those boobies up in the southern states), but justice in this country has never been blind. I think our system demonstrates more than any of our other systemic architecture just how pervasive racial and social inequality is here in the United States. Sure, it’s a work in process and we’re improving — but it still sucks.

    Add in the uncertainty of convictions, the real and increasingly likely number of innocents, DNA technology, etc. and it’s all a deal breaker. For me, that just leaves (c): revenge. Well, is it worth it? Mostly, I’d guess not. It won’t turn back time, it can’t replace what’s been lost, it can never repair the damage. If punishment were food, revenge killing is a twinkie: sweet, but worthless and unhealthy.

    So, because (a) doesn’t work, (b) risks potentially innocent people and is exorbitantly costly, and (c) is little but a short emotional sugar rush…what’s the point?

    Put me in the NO column.

  5. spacemanspiff

    I say allegedly because the numbers say we convict innocent people everyday. The electric chair will be looked at by future generations like we look at iron maidens now (not the rock band). The first time an innocent man was murdered by the state it was proved to be a failure. Those who know the law or have had trouble with it understand how easy it is to be falsely accused of shit. Overworked prosecutors have tons of cases and are normally less prepared than defense lawyers. Great lawyers can get you almost anything. But most are expensive. For every Tim McVeigh types we’ve got kids, parents, brothers, sisters at the wrong place at the wrong time getting killed by the state. Money talks.

    So yeah. I am fully against the death penalty.

    I wouldn’t dare call myself a liberal if I wasn’t. Can somebody be against guns and pro death penalty?

    Wow. That would be a very confused person right there.  

  6. DTOzone

    but now I don’t see a point in it anymore. It would only work if it served as a deter to crimes, but all proof shows it does not.

    So whats the point? revenge? Not good enough rationale to me.

    Not to mention the number of innocent people executed over the years, the racial question, and so on.

  7. creamer

      What about a Sadaam Hussein or Chemical Ali? Osama Bin Laden? Its been reported that one of Gadaffi’s sons and some grandchildren were killed in a NATO airstrike targeting Gadaffi. We target and kill “suspected” terrorist on a regular basis via Predator drones and Hellfire missles.

    Not trying to side track the discussion but theese questions arise in my mind when thinking about “state sponored killing”.

  8. DeniseVelez

    Went outside to plant some rosebushes but is still too cold so came back to have coffee and sit at the puter.

  9. Strummerson

    …but to weigh in on the initial question:

    I do not support the death penalty in any situation.  Any.  Period.  The most clear cut application I can think of was Israel’s only execution…of Adolf Eichmann, the primary engineer and master of logistics for the final solution.  And no, I don’t think he should have been executed.  

    Capital punishment does not honor the victims.  It may satisfy a psychic/emotional need of survivors.  But I can think of plenty of things that would satisfy various psychic/emotional needs of mine that I would not welcome or condone.  Executions as catharsis or therapy?  No thank you.

    It’s proven to fail as a deterrent.

    It’s proven to kill innocent people.

    In fact, though I applaud Barry Scheck’s DNA project, which has gotten scores of innocent people out of death row, I fear that it might suggest a way to “perfect” the accuracy of capital convictions and actually end up producing arguments for those who want the state to exterminate offenders to appease “victims’ rights.”

    But I also think that our entire penal system needs to be rethought.  How many non-violent drug offenders are serving lengthy sentences?  How many 15 year olds are tried as adults?  Can we play with the definition of adult when it comes to voting rights or legal drinking age?  I’ve known several 15 year olds who I think would pass any test to do both of those competently.

    Finally, the hypocrisy of those who pursue the curtailing of women’s reproductive rights, due to a belief in the inherent sanctity of all human life, but then turn and suggest that this sanctity may be forfeited and passionately defend the death penalty drives me a bit crazy.  At least the Catholic Church is consistent in condemning both abortion and execution.  Of course, I’ve never once heard of a Bishop suggesting that communion should be withheld from legislators who support the death penalty…

  10. HappyinVT

    It took me about 24 hours to work up the nerve to post a comment but beat me up or not because while I wouldn’t say I am pro death penalty I would say that I don’t lose any sleep over the likes of Timothy McVeigh or Ted Bundy being put to death.  Sorry, I don’t.

    I know all the arguments and I get them which is why if the US were to abolish the death penalty I wouldn’t lose any sleep, either.

    If my “meh” attitude makes me a bad progressive I guess I can live with that.

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