Death Penalty Activism

Barring some miracle, it appears that the state will kill Troy Davis. My feelings on the death penalty are quite clear, and remain the same in this case also. You can get more on the legal questions behind denying Davis a retrial from Andrew Cohen.


But I thought it important to share another story that was brought to my attention which dove-tails with our conversation last week about personal activism, and the legacy of the Civil Rights movement. 

I refer to the robbery and killing of James C. Anderson at the hands of racist thugs:

Mr. Anderson, 48, died shortly after 5 a.m. on June 26. He had been leaving a motel, and had either lost his keys or locked them in his truck, the police said. Images from a security video show two carloads of teenagers driving into the parking lot. Some of them jumped out and approached Mr. Anderson, who was beaten and robbed. As Mr. Anderson staggered along a grassy strip at the edge of a parking lot, a teenager driving a Ford pickup truck backed up and then accelerated forward, running over and killing him, the investigators said. 

The lawsuit makes public for the first time the names of all seven people who had piled into the two vehicles that night, charging that while some were directly responsible for assaulting and killing Mr. Anderson, others were negligent because they acted as lookouts and did not try to help Mr. Anderson. 

One of the people yelled "white power" during the attack, and others used a racial slur and bragged about the killing, according to the investigators.

Anderson's family is suing the group of young men accused in the killing. (Anderson was also gay. Mississippi law forbids his partner, with who he was raising a four-year old girl, from joining in on the suit.) 

Here is what Anderson's family is also doing:

The sister of James C. Anderson is asking the district attorney to not seek the death penalty in her brother's killing -- an alleged hate crime. "Those responsible for James' death not only ended the life of a talented and wonderful man," Barbara Anderson Young wrote in her letter.

"They also have caused our family unspeakable pain and grief. But our loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another." She quoted Coretta Scott King in explaining her opposition to capital punishment: "An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of human life...."

Young wrote that the family's opposition to the death penalty is "deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James' life as well. Our Savior Jesus Christ rejected the old way of an eye for an eye and taught us instead to turn the other cheek. He died that we might have everlasting life and, in doing so, asked that the lives of the two common criminals nailed to the crosses beside him be spared. We can do no less." 

 Young said the family also oppose any execution "because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites. Executing James' killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment."

Indeed. I know many of us are upset right now. I hope this brings some light to a dark day.

This, too, is activism.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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