Scottsboro Boys (Vanessa Gonzalez)

24 Feb

Government killings of its citizens as an element of the criminal justice system have become a uniquely American exercise in western civilization, placing us with countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China.  Further, our nation’s struggles with capital punishment are made even more complicated by issues of competence, such as the disproportionate application of the death penalty to minority groups. A historical analysis suggests that American patterns of racial domination and resistance to cultural homogenization have evolved to design a new order of racial inequality.

Scottsboro Boys

The ‘Scottsboro Boys’, an arduous struggle to find justice, represents the transitional period in which those committed to racial hierarchy found the means to achieve their goal. In 1931, eight teenage boys ranging from the age of 13 and 19 years old were wrongfully accused of the gang rape and assault of two white girls. As result of false testimonies, poor legal representation, lack of time to conduct proper investigations, and the trial of the juvenile defendants as adults, the defendants were wrongfully sentenced to the death penalty. Protests around the country created the political tension necessary to gain the Supreme Court’s reconsideration of the case. Two of the Scottsboros’ sentences were reduced to 75 years of prison, one of them to 99 years, and one to life imprisonment. Charges against the other four teenagers were dropped six years after the event occurred. Nevertheless, the false accusations, time in prison, and public’s reject limited their opportunities to succeed in life.

Scottsboro Boys

It is statistically undeniable that offenders who are minorities are sentenced to death in far greater proportion than whites in America. This belies a serious inequity in the application of the death penalty, creating scars of victimization and anger towards other racial groups. As result, we are feeding a never ending circle of violence, in which anger at devalued ideas of human equality lead to penal offenses, and capital punishment responds with a retaliatory punishment founded on ‘morally justified’ anger towards the offender. Arguably, however, it is the purpose of government to rise above anger and vengeance in its ultimate goal of creating a safe, productive, and peaceful world.  The core question is this: does the death penalty restore a victim and prevent further violence or does it just enhance it and add to the cacophony of suffering and pain?  Of the tools at our disposal, is the death penalty vital or counterproductive?  While the courts and legislatures will undoubtedly play a central role in answering these questions, ultimately the fate of the death penalty rests with hearts and minds of the people.

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