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Death row for the death penalty

The United States is one of the few first world countries that continues the barbaric practice of sacrificing citizens on the altar of justice through the cruel practice of execution.

Opinion By Solomon O. Smith, Political News Editor

America is neither responsible nor careful enough to administer the death penalty, and people of color continue to suffer under this cruel practice.

A recent New York Times article released information that another Black man, Ledell Lee in Arkansas, was wrongly executed on April 19, 2017. The article, received with little fanfare, reported that the Innocence Project and American Civil Liberties Union lawyers found DNA from another man on the weapon involved in the murder case. For years, Lee’s lawyers tried to get the DNA tested — before his execution— but were denied. Lee had been in prison awaiting his death for 22 years.

“My dying words will always be, as it has been, ‘I am an innocent man,’” said Lee in an interview with the BBC. He was executed the next day.

The DNA evidence was not the only part of the case that was dubious. The speed that it was pushed through the system, the lack of response from the state to requests by the defense, and the general attitude of state actors led to the wrong man spending 22 years in prison, and dying for a crime he did not commit. Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas, responded by defending this tragedy, and the process.

“The fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had,” said Hutchinson on May 4 during a press briefing.

The fact is Lee’s case is not the exception, but the rule. Pervis Payne’s case in Tennessee has all the familiar trappings of a reckless state ready to kill a Black citizen. According to the Innocence Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to exonerating innocent people wrongly imprisoned, Payne’s lawyers filed a Petition to Determine Ineligibility to be Executed because he is mentally disabled with an I.Q. of about 68.

“He is a Black man with an uncontested intellectual disability who was accused of murdering a white woman in a county with a long history of biased criminal justice, and the State is unable to account for key missing evidence that could help prove his innocence,” reads the petition.

African Americans make up about 17 percent of the U.S. population but account for 41.6 percent of death row, according to Death Penalty Info. African Americans often receive harsher sentences for crimes than their white counter parts and are quickly pushed through the court process in an effort to save money, a point of gospel for many right-wing supporters of the death penalty. Cost should not be the motivating factor for whether a human being is murdered by their own state. It is an abhorrent, reductive argument devoid of moral reasoning.

Plainly put, America should not execute citizens because it is wrong so often, and states care so little about how the death penalty is used. Institutional changes in wealth gaps, treatment of the poor and racial egalitarianism are the real issues and wanton death rarely proves an effective solution to crime.

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