Banks was just 10 minutes from execution by lethal injection when
Texas prison officials told his family and lawyer, "A stay has
been granted. You're free to go." Banks was temporarily spared
by the U.S. Supreme Court, while the Justices decide whether to hear
arguments that he was railroaded to death row 23 years ago, convicted
by an all-white jury in the killing of a white youth based on testimony
that has since been recanted.
the same time in Cuthbert, Georgia, another family gathered to request
a posthumous pardon for Lena Baker, a Black woman put to death in
the electric chair in 1944. The young mother of three shot a white
man with whom she had apparently been sexually involved. She claimed
to have acted in self-defense. Her trial before 12 white men took
one day. For the next five decades, Lena Baker's body lay in an unmarked
grave, her family scattered.
Baker and Delma Banks - one long dead and the other a few breaths
away from becoming the 300th Texas inmate to be executed since resumption
of the death penalty in 1977 - are reminders to every Black man and
woman that America cannot manage to keep even the first word of its
promise: "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
prosecutors had no witnesses to the murder of Delma Bank's 16-year-old
fast food restaurant co-worker, nor evidence that he was even in town
at the time. Banks proved that he was in Dallas, 180 miles away, four
hours after the killing, and claimed that he'd been there all night.
The prosecution couldn't come up with a motive, either. Banks just
shot the white teenager, with whom he had been friendly, "for
the hell of it," they said. Two career criminals, one a paid
informer, the other facing a third felony conviction on arson charges,
collaborated with the prosecution to connect Banks to a gun that may
have been the murder weapon. Both now admit they lied.
the prosecutors in 1944 Georgia and 1980 Texas did have were
all-white juries. And what Ms. Baker and Mr. Banks most emphatically
lacked was effective counsel.
Texarkana attorney "provided an indifferent defense" and
"did not challenge the prosecution's removal of blacks from the
jury pool or scrutinize witnesses," reported the New
Baker's Cuthbert, Georgia lawyer didn't call a single witness. "What
I done, I did in self-defense," said the doomed woman. "I
have nothing against anyone. I am ready to meet my God." No one
else spoke on her behalf, not even a character witness.
Prison and Jail Project
director John Cole Vodika advocates for prisoners and their families
in southwest Georgia. Vodika told the Associated
should never have been tried for murder. It was an obvious injustice.
That's what the system did with African-Americans who dared resist
white men's authority.
was a victim of racism, white man's domination over African-American
women. In an effort to cover up what really happened, the county
moved to treat it as capital murder. It sure appears they wanted
to get rid of her quickly and to limit or eliminate anything happening
that would further embarrass the family of the deceased.
Baker and the white man often went on trips together. We don't have
to guess whose idea that was. He was known to show up at her house
and make loud demands that she leave with him. The man's obsession
was apparently common knowledge. This was quite enough reason for
the white people of Cuthbert to murder a battered and coerced Black
woman and to drive most of her family out of the state of Georgia.
Bank's current counsel, George Kendall of the NAACP Legal Defense
and Education Fund, has plenty of opportunities for deathwatch duty
in Texas. Eight women and 439 men await lethal injection in the state,
which has accounted for one-third of the nation's executions over
the past 26 years.
Banks also has big, establishment legal guns on his side. A team of
former federal prosecutors and judges led by ex-FBI Chief William
Sessions took a special interest in Bank's case, considering it a
clear example of capital punishment run amuck. Session's blue-ribbon
squad convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a range of prosecutorial
abuses of Bank's right to a fair trial.
NAACP's Kendall said the High Court's decision to stay the execution
indicated "serious debate that could not be resolved" among
the nine justices. Texas Defender Service executive director Jim Marcus
believes the justices are "clearly troubled by one or more aspects
of this case."
be sure, one Supreme Court Justice is very "troubled." Clarence
Thomas has gone mad. Last month, when confronted with mountainous
documentation of systematic exclusion of Blacks from Dallas juries,
Thomas stood alone in rejecting a condemned Black man's plea for a
new trial. (See "All
About Clarence: Self-loathing on the High Court," March 6.)
Even hangman Justice Antonin Scalia blanched at the raw racism that
had ensured a death verdict for Thomas Miller-El. Yet, where eight
white colleagues saw cause for doubt, Clarence Thomas discerned only
''circumstantial evidence and speculation'' of prosecutorial wrongdoing.
There was no "clear and convincing evidence that any peremptory
strikes of black veniremen [jurors] were exercised because of race.''
Thomas acts as if he were white in 1940s Cuthbert, Georgia, a place
and time that his mentor Scalia would rather pretend never existed.
Unless the rest of the Brethren find an exorcist to de-demonize their
warped and suffering colleague, Thomas is likely to once again erupt
in frothing, ill-constructed dissent, an intellectual embarrassment
to the death faction. Thomas' too-obvious bloodlust spoils the decorum
of death, undermining the argument for capital punishment.
Justices were noted to have objected to Delma Banks' reprieve, this
week. The stay of execution remains in effect until the court decides
whether or not to review his case. If the answer is no, Banks will
face the needle for the last time. If review is granted, all eyes
will be fixed on Sir Clarence of Pin Point, Lord High Executioner
of Black People.
peace activism questioned
don't larger numbers of African Americans march and rally against
Bush's war? Whites are constantly posing the question, most often
in tones that indicate sincere puzzlement. Although most white Americans
appear to know nothing at all about anyone except themselves, the
thinking fraction is aware that Blacks are the most consistent national
opposition to U.S. military adventure. For the past four
decades, Black elected officials and mass organizations have expressly
linked issues of domestic social justice and peaceful international
relations. Polling evidence is conclusive over two generations: Anti-war
politics is mainstream Black politics. That has never been true of
white America, or consistently true for any other American ethnicity.
why is it that African American representation in anti-war crowds
is less than their proportion of the general population? The
answers are as simple - and as complicated - as for any other matter
of race relations in America. Anti-war activities are organized by
people. They are social activities, connected to networks of
people speaking through their own frames of reference, bringing to
the activity all of the baggage of their segregated lives. In a racist
society, all politics must be evaluated in the context of race relations.
people are the historical culprits in this matter of American racism.
It is, therefore, appropriate that dedicated white people have done
some of the most serious, nuts and bolts work in tackling the racial
dilemmas that dog progressive organizers. If white supremacy is a
(the?) general problem in America (the world?), it will also loom
as a (the?) major contradiction in creating mass, multi-racial movements,
including movements that purport to be anti-racist.
the problem could be wished or prayed away, Black people would have
wished and prayed themselves free long ago.
Letter To Activists Concerning Racism In The Anti-War Movement,
circulated last month, a multi-ethnic group of New York movement veterans
white activists don't see how "whiteness" privileges them
and perpetuates white supremacist social relations in movement work.
White activists have a responsibility to struggle against white
supremacy, a struggle that includes: 1) Sharing leadership with,
and being willing to follow the lead of, people and organizations
of color; 2) maintaining an attitude of collectivity and not dominating
discussion; 3) challenging racist language and actions (especially
within movement spaces), and 4) prioritizing the issues, experiences
and struggles of people of color.
of value has been accomplished through the Challenging White Supremacy
Workshops. We also recommend a February Znet article titled, "Anti-War
Questions and Answers."
of the most important anti-war efforts - the city council resolutions
opposing war - have taken place in cities where whites are a minority.
In fact, of the 25 cities with population of over 100,000 that have
passed anti-war resolutions, 15 have white minorities. Of these
15, 6 have an African American majority and 6 an African American
authors Michael Albert and Stephen R. Shalom caution, "it's probably
still the case that current demonstrations are disproportionately
white and middle class. But to a considerable extent this is a function
of which sectors of society can most easily take the time and expense
to travel to major anti-war events."
should examine the assumptions that may lurk behind and within questions
concerning Black participation in anti-war demonstrations. First,
there is a general perception among whites and Blacks that white people
dominate the anti-war movement. To the extent that this is true, why
should it be assumed that African Americans will come when white people
call, for any cause? Have white people responded to Black-led
movements seeking broad social change in anything approaching whites'
proportion of the population? Older whites are sometimes heard to
complain about a lack of recognition of the many thousands of whites
who took part in the 1963 March on Washington, for example. Yet whites
were a fraction of the quarter-million strong crowd, while outnumbering
African Americans in the general population eight to one. (Not to
mention the resource gap.) Did whites believe that they were making
some special contribution to the "Black" cause? Apparently,
some did, and still do.
resources and privilege make it possible for even relatively weak
sectors of white opinion to make a great deal of noise. White institutions
pay attention to other whites. But minorities among whites cannot
presume to set a detailed agenda for Black Americans, who share an
extraordinarily coherent group worldview. African Americans cannot
intelligent question that Black America grapples with daily is, Why
don't African Americans rally to Black-led causes more often
and in greater numbers? This is a question that seems not to concern
many "peace" activists, who prefer to ask their own questions,
concerning the activities that are the focal points of their own lives.
is a growing awareness that profound damage has been done to Black
America's ability to mobilize itself for demonstrations or direct
action. Young people drive activist politics. The overlapping, relentless
assaults on urban America over the past three decades have fallen
most heavily on Black youth. The cutting edge cultural cohort of the
international youth market is, in political terms, a wounded force,
far less available and less capable of organized, public confrontation
with Power. And Power knows it.
the most afflicted urban neighborhoods, huge numbers of young males
and females are not present, due to incarceration. At any given
time, a much larger group is under criminal justice supervision. More
still live in fear of becoming too visible to authorities that treat
every young Black as a probationer. At the micro level, in a typical
circle of four male friends in their older teens, at least one will
not risk exposing himself to police in a public demonstration. Consequently,
the tight little group becomes useless for a variety of organizational
purposes. In an important sense, it is outside of politics.
week, San Francisco Bay area Hip Hop commentator Davey
D reported on an Oakland demonstration that "marked one of
the first times that you saw large numbers of Black and Latino youth
from the hood come out and voice their opinion about the War."
Police treated the 300 - 500 demonstrators like an oversized band
of the usual suspects. Activist/journalist "JR" was roughed
up and arrested.
phoned into our Hard Knock Radio show from city jail and emphatically
explained that many people were in fear of their lives when the
officers started becoming aggressive. He pointed out that kids were
being run over and shoved by the motorcycles and the police seemed
bent on intimidating people. He also noted that most of the participants
were not out in the streets attempting to get arrested and do some
sort of civil disobedience. In fact it had been advised to a lot
of the mostly Black and Latino crowd to not go out and try and get
some sort of police record. That can only have negative effects
in the age of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act. He also felt
that there were enough Black folks caught up in the system and we
don't need any more.
you contrast what went down in Oakland at 1 o'clock in the afternoon
with the anti-war demonstrations that took place in SF during rush
hour you will see the picture. In the SF demonstration a contingent
of mostly white youth took their antiwar protest to the streets
and blocked a main intersection causing traffic to back up. Police
on motorcycles did not roll through and brutalize the demonstrators.
Saturday, March 15, thousands will converge on Washington for an Emergency
March on the White House. Relatively few will come from inner cities,
despite the large role played by Blacks in the ANSWER
African Americans nor whites should draw shallow conclusions from
the numbers. Americans live in very different worlds. In much of Black
America, police state conditions have existed for some time, and the
Patriot Act is just another reason for abuse.
comments are welcome. Visit the Contact
Us page for E-mail or Feedback.
here to return to the home page