Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reverend Wright and the Death Penalty

by Norman Markowitz

The news is filled with commentaries about Reverend Wright's speech
before the National Press Club. I saw him on Friday on the Bill Moyers
show in a one to one discussion with a sympathetic Moyers and he was I
thought good, progressive and humane. Yesterday, for whatever reason,
he sounded like he was on an ego trip, forgetting that his moment of
media fame has nothing to do with him and/or the wide variety of stands
that he has taken over his long life but everything to do with his
relationship to Senator Obama.

Hopefully, this will end and we can get back to the long hard struggle
to oust the Republican Right, who by the way have brought into positions
of power and influence the legions of Pat Robertson's Christian
Coalition and before that Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority," undermining
the separation of Church and State in the U.S., campaigning for a
constitutional amendment to have the U.S. declared a Christian Nation,
seeking to bring "intelligent design" into the schools to challenge the
"theories" of Charles Darwin, and for the most extreme, doing everything
they can to advance the end of the world aka end of days aka the
Rapture, when Armageddon will come and all non believers like myself and
I hope our readers will be "left behind." I wait with baited breath for
McCain et al to condemn those preachers of real hate.

Meanwhile, another story, discussing a sociological study of Harris
County, Texas, which expands and sharpens the large amount of both
social scientific and narrative evidence that the death penalty is
carried out more against African-Americans than whites is reported, both
criticized and praised, and then buried. That this extreme example of
institutional racism might have something to do with anger Reverend
Wright expresses would never be connected. In the article, McCleskey v.
Kemp, the 1987 Supreme Court Case in which the Court, by a 5-4 ruling,
rejected massive sociological evidence of executions in Georgia(the kind
of sociological evidence used to prove that segregation was not
"separate but equal" in the Brown decision) to sustain the death
penalty. Writing for the majority, Justice Lewis Powell made the point
that racist bias in a wide variety of sentences meted out existed and if
this execution was overturned, then the whole criminal justice system's
penalties on a wide variety of crimes would come into question(a
grotesque Catch -22 argument)

Lewis Powell in retirement now actively opposes his 1987 decision and
calls it the worst mistake that he made, but Warren McCleskey is dead,
others have been executed, and the Supreme Court today is made up a
majority of justices who are to the right of Lewis Powell. But that,
along with gas prices, consumer debt, the only entirely for profit
health care system left in the developed world isn't significant.
Whether and how much Barack Obama criticizes Reverend Wright.

As an historian of the 20th century, I can only imagine how historians a
century from now will look at all of this, assuming the present
political trends are reversed. If not, they may not have anything to
look at .

No comments: