In recent days, in California, many activists and thinking people have been concerned with the concept of capital punishment, as well as what may be considered an ethical way to put a man down. Yesterday, we of the "show-me" faith witnessed a miracle of sorts when the execution of death row inmate, Michael Morales, was halted indefintely due to the courageous actions of anesthesiologists who refused, as a matter of conscience, to use the education they acquired to save lives for the purpose of ending lives. While this may be seen as one huge step for man, it is, alas, one small step for mankind. That those who witness an execution carried out by the state feel somehow cleaner than those who administer the lethal injection gives one pause to think. For one miniscule, yet signifcant, moment yesterday, the state of California blinked as the rest of the country, and the world, watched. This is not about vindication for a convicted murderer. This is about higher order intelligence, and ensuring accountability from the top down.
While capital punishment may be among the most important civil rights issues of our times, the underlying concept of wrongful conviction in and of itself must serve as a wake-up call to all of us that, if nothing else, the death penalty is unethical if only because it's irrevocable. While there will always be some dispute about what percentage of those inmates on death row are innocent of the crimes for which they've been tried, convicted, and sentenced, one thing there can be no disagreement about, and that is to execute someone means never having to say you're sorry. And even Dante couldn't come up with a circle, in hell, appropriate for a state that does away with those who have been wrongly convicted.
Late yesterday, I received a forwarded e-mail from Barry Bradford, a teacher at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, in Illinois. You may recall that three of Mr. Bradford's students were responsible for successfully reopening the Mississippi Burning case. The purpose of the missive was to make one aware of an African-American gentleman by the name of Clyde Kennard who, in the late 1950's, attempted to integrate the University of Southern Mississippi. Mr. Kennard was framed for a crime he didn't commit, and sentenced to prison as a way to preclude his efforts at integration, as well as send a message to others that if they followed in his footsteps, they would end up in the same place as he did.
Barry Bradford whose students exposed the most egregious civil rights murders of our times insists that he has "absolute and irrefutalbe evidence that Clyde Kennard was innocent." The only man who testified against Kennard, under oath, has since admitted that he lied. Fifty years later, there are more African-American males in our nations jails than in our nation's universities, and this gentleman was incarcerated for the simple crime of wanting to go to college.
Clyde Kennard died shortly after he got out of prison and, while he was pardoned by then governor of Mississippi for medical reasons, his name was never cleared. Mr. Bradford asks that justice be done, if posthumously, and that Clyde Kennard get his good name back. This is all his family wants. To find out more about this case, visit: http://www.clydekennard.org --there is a link, and a pre-written e-mail to the attorney general of Mississippi.
In an era when concern for victim's rights often outweighs concrete evidence for the defense, and reason often takes a back seat to raw vindictiveness, we must ask ourselves how it feels to be locked up, often for many years, or face the prospect of paying the ultimate price, for a crime we didn't commit, for which, all too often, we're convicted before even being tried, and sentenced by a rapacious hunger to sell newspapers, or boost broadcast news ratings. Too often, nowadays, intelligence is optional with the vehicle as we forget that a person is innocent until proven otherwise, and by a jury of his peers.
In the remarkable words of Anne Frank: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." Don't wait a moment longer. Please join me, and all others, who are working for "simple justice," in Barry Bradford's words, the clearing of one good man's name, the pledge to speak up for accountability, and against wrongful conviction with the same tenacity, clarity, and grace as if it were our brother, or sister, who was fighting to preserve their good name as, indeed, it is.
This is not about the death sentence, right or wrong; this is not about guilt or innocence, but insisting upon undeniable proof. There may be crimes so horrific that they beg for the ultimate penalty, but if one person is convicted wrongfully, and put to death, then we are all diminished.