Letter to the Editor

    Editor:

    Alan Herzfeld’s opinion piece about the Illinois death row clemencies was excellent, and it addressed a number of issues surrounding the death penalty in the United States. However, he left out two primary factors which were at the center of Gov. Ryan’s decision.

    First, the death penalty is racist. Over 80 percent of persons executed were convicted of killing whites, although people of color make up over half of all homicide victims in the United States.

    In Illinois, Oklahoma, and North Carolina, killers of white victims are four times more likely to receive the death penalty than the killers of black victims. In Mississippi, they are five times more likely; in Maryland, they are seven times more likely. Sixty percent of the persons on death row in California and Texas are either Black, Latino, Asian, or Native American. Ninety percent of the people U.S.Government prosecutors seek to execute are Black or Latino.

    Historically, two out of three persons executed in the U.S. for crimes they committed as children have been black. Since 1900, as lynching declined, this ratio jumped to three out of four. These statistics show that it is not just, as conservatives often put it, that they “”just commit more crimes,”” but rather, people of color are put to death far more often for committing the same crimes as whites.

    Second, there has been a large grassroots movement pushing Gov. Ryan to make the decision as he did. Ryan did not, I believe, make the decision out of the goodness of his heart, but rather because he was forced to recognize growing discontent with a criminal justice system that targets people of color and the poor. The Death Row 10, four of whom were the first to be released by Ryan, are a group of prisoners that organized themselves on the basis of a common experience — tortured confessions and a lack of concrete evidence convicting them. The Campaign to End the Death Penalty (check it out at http://www.nodeathpenalty.org) has worked tirelessly to win the moratoriums in Illinois and Maryland, and most recently, to demand clemency from Gov. Ryan.

    It is important that these aspects be heard because it gives hope for those opposed to an unjust system that they can fight back and win.

    — Rebecca Anshell

    International Socialist Organization member

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