Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fenced in Fathers

By Gary L. Flowers

Executive Director & CEO

Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

June 14 – 21, 2009

No civilized society would insist upon maintaining the anachronism of the death penalty. An imperfect system cannot ask for a perfect punishment, which is death. Therefore, any country that maintains the anachronism of the death penalty by that very fact is an uncivilized society.”

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter

As I celebrated Father’s Day with my parents last week I felt a certain sense of security knowing lessons learned from growing up with my father (and grandfather) were deeply instilled in me. Yet, I mused on how many sons have insecure upbringings because their fathers are incarcerated behind security bars.

America in general, and the African American community in particular, has too many fenced-in fathers. For every father behind bars is a son who either must navigate the trail from boyhood to manhood alone or erroneously emulate men who use incarceration as a rite of manhood on the street. There of 1.7 million children (under 18 years old) whose fathers are locked up in federal or state facilities.

Factors for fenced-in fathers are poverty (over 1/3 of inmates earned less than $5,000 a year, prior to arrest), inadequate lawyers (often do not provide effective counsel), racial profiling (the probability of incarceration for Blacks, Latinos, and Whites is 29%, 16%, and 4%, respectfully), non-violent crimes, (over 65% of American inmates are serving time for non-violent crimes).

The United States of America leads the world community in prisoners per capita with over 2.3 million, 60% of whom are fathers of color. In fact, America incarcerates and executes more people per capita than any other country on earth (750 per 100,000 citizens). Such percentages are more than China, Europe, and Africa. One out of every Black male is under the control of the penal system. More startling is that while African Americans constitute 14% of the nation’s population, 43% of Death Row prisoners are Black.

Within industrial nations, the moral cache America has garnered over the years is increasingly diminished by the continuation of the death penalty.

Fact is: the death penalty is state-sponsored murder. If murder is a crime punishable by the government, why is not the capital punishment imposed by the state a crime against civility?

Since 1976, America has resumed the barbaric and ineffective system of capital punishment. Relevant research reveals that the death penalty is racially biased, economically inefficient, and does not serve as a deterrent to crime. I agree with the American Civil Liberties Union who oppose the death penalty:

· The death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment – It is cruel as a relic of the earliest days of European penology. It is unusual because the United States is the only industrialized nation which employs capital punishment

· The death penalty denies due process of law – Often the imposition of the death penalty is arbitrary and deprives convicts the benefit of new evidence or science which could overturn ruling

· Opposing the death penalty does not equate to sympathy for convicted murderers – State-sponsored murder is immoral and perpetuates violence as a means to solve the question of punishment

In particular, the death penalty is irreversible. Enough said.

America must end an “eye for an eye” penal policy system. In the words of Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. “an eye for an eye leaves people blind.” Our nation must visualize a more civil and humane approach to punishment.

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