THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
Legalized Lynching /
The Death Penalty
The Death Penalty
WEEK VI / DAY V
Friday, March 23, 2018
Scripture / Genesis 4:8-10
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.
Our History and Its Legacy
Slavery was an institution built on the premise that some lives were less valuable than others, based solely on the color of skin. Those whose lives were considered less valuable could then be treated with less concern for fairness, rights, dignity, and decency. Considered as another person’s property, slaves could be treated largely at the whim of their owner with the owner having little fear of legal consequence. If any such laws to protect the slaves existed, they were rarely or weakly enforced. So whipping, rape, branding, cutting, mutilation, burning, and other forms of punishment or forced compliance were common, even at times executions for problematic slaves or those who had tried to flee. Of course, the enslaved person had little or no legal recourse. See this article on the treatment of slaves in the United States.
In the Jim Crow era, Black people could and were killed with much impunity from the late 1800s through the 1960s, not uncommonly by the mob action of lynching. The Equal Justice Initiative completed a study, which found more than 4,000 “racial-terror” lynchings of African-Americans in the twelve states of the South between 1870 and 1950. While there were laws in these states against murder, including such atrocities as these lynchings, they were weakly enforced or the perpetrators were unpunished through acquittal or given light sentences. Again, these actions are built on the premise that some lives matter less, and sometimes the practice of the law upholds this view even if implicitly or in effect.
In Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson writes “The racial terrorism of lynching in many ways created the modern death penalty. America’s embrace of speedy executions was, in part, an attempt to redirect the violent energies of lynching while assuring White southerners that Black men could still pay the ultimate price.”
About 13% of Americans are African-American. Yet almost 35% of those who have been executed in the US since 1976 are African-American. Currently 42% of those on death row are African-American. See here for more.
Life in prison without parole (LWOP) is a death penalty of sorts, just elongated. In 2012, “research shows that 65.4 percent of prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses are Black. … The racial disparities are even worse in some states. In 13 states and the federal system, the percentage of Blacks serving life sentences is over 60 percent. In Georgia and Louisiana, the proportion of Blacks serving LWOP sentences is as high as 73.9 and 73.3 percent, respectively. In the federal system, 71.3 percent of the 1,230 LWOP prisoners are Black.” Some lives matter less.
Reflect and Respond
Pray, “Lord help me to see.” Then carve out the time to watch this 22-minute TED talk by Bryan Stevenson about these things, or this short piece specifically on race and the death penalty. Take some time to talk to God about what you’ve learned, what you’ve felt, honestly addressing God with what you actually feel. You may want to learn more about the work of the Equal Justice Initiative, or commit to reading Bryan’s book, Just Mercy.
You may also want to commit to watching the film Mississippi Burning, based on true events.
Written by Bill Haley