Monday, December 20, 2010

I stand firmly

From Friday's Charlotte (NC) Observer, this op-ed by MVFHR member Charisse Coleman:

My brother was murdered and I support ending the death penalty
From Charisse Coleman, a writer and mental health counselor in Durham:

Every time we talk about ending the death penalty in North Carolina, someone throws out the old question: What if someone in your family were murdered? How would you feel then?

For most people, that ends the discussion. Not for me.

In 1995, a man walked into the liquor store where my brother worked as a stock clerk and shot him to death. The killer wanted the contents of the cash drawer. For reasons we will never understand, the man launched the robbery by shooting Russell three times in the back, while leaving two other employees unharmed. He now awaits execution in Louisiana.

It was a senseless crime, and it has sometimes been hard over the last 15 years to keep this single event from turning me into someone I don't want to be. Someone more interested in vengeance than justice, for instance.

Precisely because I refuse to let a murderer sour my soul and embitter my life, because I refuse to let him dictate to me the limits of my capacity to heal and thrive, I stand firmly with the growing number of North Carolinians who believe that we must stop looking to a deeply flawed capital punishment system to soothe our anger and grief over violent crime.

One senseless killing need not beget another.

We absolutely must deal with violent crime in this country, an epidemic that needs to be addressed with forceful, creative energy. But I can't help recognizing: Russell died because a man saw killing him as the answer to a problem. What sense can there be to society using a murderer's methods to solve our problems?

A poll released this week by the Fair Trial Institute shows that North Carolinians have serious concerns about the capital punishment system. Sixty-four percent - conservatives, moderates and liberals - said either that they favored ending the death penalty, or were unsure if it should used at a cost of more than $11 million a year. Nearly 70 percent said executions should be stopped until all the evidence can be heard in cases where the State Bureau of Investigation withheld or misrepresented evidence. Nearly 60 percent said defendants should not be executed if racial bias played a role in their case.

SBI agents lied about the results of blood tests in hundreds of cases. Their dishonesty helped secure death sentences. Despite these revelations, recent news reports show that little has changed in the state lab that handles evidence.

Also in the past few months, new studies show racial bias is alive and well in North Carolina. One study found that killing a white person makes you almost three times more likely to get a death sentence than killing a black person.

We cannot continue executing people under these circumstances, despite the pain that crime has caused in my family.

In my brother's case, the killer was a career criminal, and police suspected him of murdering at least six other people. At 13, the killer savagely beat someone with a lead pipe.

Still, I feel no better knowing that the man who killed my brother is on death row, or that when and if he exhausts his interminable appeals, his sisters and brother will feel the same grief I do.

The killer's execution will change nothing. Not for my family. Not for the community. Not for the cause of justice or peace. Russell will still be dead. Another death will not help us to heal from that loss.

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