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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
To 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
If the problem
could be wished or prayed away, Black people would have wished
and prayed themselves free long ago.
In an Open
Letter To Activists Concerning Racism In The Anti-War Movement,
circulated last month, a multi-ethnic group of New York movement
veterans argued that:
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.
value has been accomplished through the Challenging White Supremacy
Workshops. We also recommend a February Znet article titled,
Questions and Answers."
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 plurality.
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."
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 be summoned.
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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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