poor & Blacks on death row
Black people represent only 12% of the U.S. population, they constitute
50% of its prison population
The U.S. government invests more in prisons than in universities
(Granma International staff writer)
the United States, the country which portrays itself as champion
of human rights in the world, it would appear to be easier to
incarcerate young people than to educate them and provide them
with employment that could give them with healthy lives, affirmed
Monica Moorehead, leader of Workers’ World and that party’s presidential
candidate, speaking in Havana.
with eminent figures from the civil rights movement in the United
States, Moorehead took part in an international roundtable screened
on Cuban television on June 19, which focused on the racism and
injustice existing within the U.S. judicial system, particularly
in the application of the death penalty.
Workers’ World leader confirmed that prison construction in that
nation is a lucrative business. The penitentiary industry brings
in more than $1.1 billion USD, by utilizing a cheap labor force
which pays from 23 cents to one dollar per hour for slave labor,
Street firms, among them American Express, and telephone companies
are heavily involved in this business, in which the U.S. government
has invested more than in education since 1996.
African American activist observed that, despite a reduction in
the number of crimes committed by young people, their rate of
detention has increased. There has also been huge growth recorded
by the female population in correctional facilities as a consequence
of the use of drugs, in itself a result of the system.
added that many of those women are raped with impunity in those
prisons, as was recently exposed by a group in a New York penitentiary.
Single women even have babies there, which constitutes a crime
against humanity. To cap it off, rehabilitation programs have
been virtually eliminated.
THAN HALF THE FEMALE PRISON POPULATION IS BLACK
another roundtable on June 20, Cuban journalist Arleen Rodríguez
explored this issue. She explained that over half of the 84,000
women prisoners in the United States in 1998 were Black, "a figure
that currently stands at 100,000, according to a publication specializing
in that sector of the population."
contrast, she quoted the example of the blonde white wife of a
U.S. military attaché in Colombia who was exposed as a drug trafficker
and is currently on bail, as opposed to her Colombian chauffeur,
who has been arrested.
what happened to the black movement which was such a strong force
in the ’60s and ’70s, Rodríguez concluded: "It is in the prisons.
It is dead." She then recalled how, in response to a question
in the United Nations on the death penalty, a U.S. ambassador
stated that if they didn’t kill prisoners the jails would always
ABU JAMAL: THE VISIBLE FIGHT AGAINST INJUSTICE
is the reason that they want to silence Mumia Abu Jamal, a journalist
and member of the African American movement in Philadelphia, who
has been on death row for 18 years, unjustly accused of killing
a white police officer. As Moorehead noted, his constant protest
constitutes the face of the battle against injustice and police
violence in the United States.
an exceptional and spontaneous moment during the roundtable, Cubans
were able to listen to a message sent by Mumia from his cell,
in which he once more exposed the situation of two million prisoners
in his country, and he expressed his solidarity with the island-wide
struggle being waged for Elián González’ return.
Abu Jamal spoke of the conditions facing imprisoned Blacks and
Hispanics, including Cubans, the so-called "Marielitos" (Cubans
who left from Mariel port in 1980), detained without a trial for
an indefinite period, because the judges are never going to know
that they are prisoners. That is U.S. "justice," which continues
to be dominated by political ambition and anti-communism.
47 years ago, two other children, one the same age as Elián, were
orphaned; they and their parents were the victims of a rigged
and brutal system. On June 19, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were
sent to their deaths on the electric chair.
Weinglass, the senior attorney on Mumia’s defense team, referred
to three factors that make for unjust defense proceedings in a
country which has 25% of the world prison population: race, class
MILLIONAIRES ARE SENTENCED TO DEATH IN THE UNITED STATES
attorney emphasized that no millionaires or upper-middle-class
persons are sentenced to death in the United States.
3600 prisoners on death row are the poorest of the poor, those
with the worst education and medical attention. More than 90%
of them have been victims of sexual and physical abuse, in addition
to being dependent on public defenders because they lack the means
to pay their defense, he stated.
recalled that, of the 18,000 executions in the United States in
the 200 years of the republic’s history, only 38 were white persons
accused of killing people of color. In the prison housing Mumia
Abu Jamal, there are 126 persons on death row and only 13 are
white. In the U.S. justice system, the life of a white person
is worth more than that of a Black person.
was observed that the United States has the highest prison population
in the world, with 519 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants. As Cuban
journalist Lázaro Barredo noted during the June 20 roundtable,
50% of the two million in jail are black, even though Blacks represent
only 12% of the population.
Hinds, professor of law at Rutgers University and an eminent attorney,
exposed the discriminatory nature of justice applied in the United
States and insisted that in order to understand it, one has to
go back to the genesis of that nation, which was marked by racism
and violence against the indigenous population, now marginalized,
with the lowest social indices.
case of Native American leader Leonard Peltier, who has spent
25 years behind bars, is one example of governmental action to
repress such movements.
noted that the death penalty is applied in 38 U.S. states, in
violation of the international agreement on human rights. Even
two children, one Black and one Native American, has been executed.
Nevertheless, no white man has been executed for raping a Black
continues to be applied in a racist manner and the police force
is an instrument of minority repression, he stated.
La Riva, a trade union leader in the state of California, commented
on the paradox of the richest state in the nation containing so
much poverty and unemployment. According to official figures,
112,000 Latinos are identified as gang members, which is doubtless
related to the large percentage of these minorities in prison,
for crimes they committed in order to survive.
Riva noted that mounting a defense in California, for example,
costs an average of $400,000 USD, which is clearly an inaccessible
price for the great majority of the population.
is a typical case within the U.S. judicial system. The inefficiency
of his state-appointed attorney and police threats against witnesses,
to convince them to lie, constitute a perfect combination, matched
by a prosecuting attorney who is now a prominent figure in the
Democratic Party, and a judge forced to retire after the damage
was already done.
is convinced of Mumia Abu Jamal’s innocence and states that, after
18 years, the case has been put before a federal court, and that
they expect a response by the end of the year. One further complication
is that there were changes in the law in 1996, which makes everything
Africa knew Mumia in Philadelphia, during a time when the police
murdered African Americans and Hispanics and never spent one day
in prison. Meanwhile, Rosemary Mealy, his friend and a New York
lawyer, recalled how Mumia, not yet 16, held a leading position
in the Black Panther Party, which fought against police brutality
in the community.
he became a journalist, Mealy recounted, Mumia Abu Jamal utilized
the media to expose to the world what was going on. For that reason,
the FBI identified him as a threat and was involved in achieving
stated that at the time he was given the death sentence he felt
intense anger and the sensation that the injustice done was penetrating
to the depths of his soul. Anger, injustice, outrage, fear, confused
feelings that came from everywhere, but he hung on to the hope
that they could not last, that he would turn them around.
Jamal’s case was a political one from the outset, and could not
have been any other way. He accuses the system. With a masters’
degree from the University of California, his three books and
hundreds of articles have denounced the corruption, abuse and
crimes committed in jails against minority prisoners.
noted that although the Justice Department initiated an investigation
into police brutality three years ago, there have been attempts
to avoid trials, and police officers involved in such acts are
not appearing before the courts. She confirmed that many murderers
of African Americans in New York remain at liberty.
GRAHAM’S LIFE DEPENDS ON THE GOVERNOR OF DEATH
Mackler, leader of the mobilizations to free Mumia Abu Jamal,
voiced his grave concern over the imminent execution of another
African American, Gary Graham, better known as Shaka Sankofa,
a prisoner in Texas for 20 years, whose execution is scheduled
for Thursday, June 22.
Rubac, who is fighting for the life of the young Black arrested
at age 17 for killing a white man, emphasized that the governor
of that state, George W. Bush, the current Republican presidential
candidate, boasts the record of having approved the largest number
of executions, 131, in the five years of his term in office, for
which reason he is known as the governor of death.
400,000 Texans live in extreme poverty, in 1,500 precarious shantytowns
lacking safe drinking water and sewer systems, according to an
AP news story datelined June 19. The shantytowns, it adds, are
slums without paved streets located in abandoned and deserted
fields close to the Mexican border, and house the most abject
poverty existing in the United States. Although Bush has visited
the lower Río Grande area on various occasions, he has never set
foot in a shantytown.
the issue, Lázaro Barredo mentioned a Colombia University study
which reveals that two out of every three executions are suspended
as a consequence of grave errors committed by lawyers, prosecuting
judges or police officers.
stated that all the death sentences in three states have had to
be annulled for this reason, citing the case of Illinois, whose
governor—who has visited Cuba—ordered a halt to the executions
and later confirmed that the persons involved merely merited light
noted that in spite of a lack of evidence against Sankofa, the
detective in charge of the case decided not to investigate further
because he was convinced of his guilt.
independent investigation pointed to Sankofa’s innocence, but
his defenders have sought out fresh evidence and plan to present
an plea of habeas corpus, because since the new 1996 legislation,
no court has been able to hear the six new witnesses, she noted.
with Mumia’s, this case has won international support, and both
are having major repercussions in the United States itself, despite
attempts to silence them. Magazines such as Newsweek are covering
the issue of the death penalty in that nation, while an editorial
in The New York Times has called for a new trial for Sankofa.
and demonstrations have taken place in various states, including
New York and California, and another is scheduled for San Francisco.
Meanwhile, well-known performers, members of Congress, the Congressional
Black Caucus and religious groups have joined their voices to
the just demand.