Amnesty International gathers to protest the Death Penalty. SJ Dodgson MJoTA 2014 v8n1 p0414
On a cold March Saturday, Amnesty International groups from Pennsylvania and South Jersey gathered at the Ethical Society in Rittenhouse Square to talk about their efforts in abolishing the death penalty, and their successes. We do have the Federal death penalty, which prosecutors want for the young man left alive after blowing up the finish line of the Boston Marathon one year ago this week. The death penalty has been removed from the list of punishments for crime in New Jersey and in Maryland, but not in Pennsylvania.
My reasons for wanting the abolition of the death penalty are several; I do not want my government to have the power to decide who will live and who will die, the judicial system is so flawed that innocent men and women are frequently indicted and found guilty of crimes they did not commit and the death penalty makes me a murderer.
Kurt Bloodworth had spoken briefly at the Witness to Innocence gathering in OctoberI described below. On the cold March Saturday afternoon, in the upstairs old wood meeting room with sunlight streaming through the windows, we heard his story.
Kurt Bloodworth was the first death row prisoner exonerated by DNA evidence. A 9yo girl had been raped and murdered, and by a complicated set of circumstances, Mr Bloodworth was the man the police decided did it. Eye witnesses who had last seen the girl identified a man much shorter and skinnier, and lacking Mr Bloodworth's bright red hair. That did not matter. A girl had been brutally murdered, and the cops needed to blame someone, have him convicted, and put to death. Fortunately the process of putting someone to death takes years, fortunately DNA analysis was developed and fortunately a clerk who had stored the physical evidence in a closet found it. Mr Bloodworth is a strong man and has always done the best he can with the hand that life has dealt him. But he can never get back his youth, or do what he should have been doing during those years.
All weekend and today, I am gathering with the sons and daughters of Liberia who are outraged that the Korlewalas, two of their own has been accused of shaking down an old lady on April 2nd, 2014.
The same dynamics are in place as were for Mr Bloodworth, a tiny old lady was shaken down and handed over her life savings, and the cops need to blame someone. And the laziest path for the cops was to walk across the road from the Salvation Army campus underneath the elevated train tracks and accuse Vickson Korlewala, the owner of a green car and his wife, Lorpu Korlewala. Because the old lady was shaken down by a couple in a green car. Could not have been easier, or lazier, for the cops. I stood yesterday at the gates of the Salvation Army headquarters and took a photograph of Lorpu's hair salon.
The fact that this son of Liberia looks nothing like the much darker and taller man in the bank surveillance video is completely irrelevant to the cops who have latched onto the Korlewalas like a starving dog onto meat. I was told by witnesses that the Commissioner of Police has "evidence" that not only did Vickson Korlewala accost and throw the 80-year-old lady into his car to drive to the bank, but that he did the same the previous month with a 90-year-old. The facts that he had just had gum surgery on March 31st, and was flat on his back in a hospital bed during the February crime, and that Lorpu was working in her hair dressing salon: according to the cops and the prosecutor, these are irrelevant and the community needs to raise $100,000 as bail to let them out before trial.
Witness to Innocence: the US must abandon "justifiable homicide". SJ
Dodgson. MJoTA 2013. V7n2 p1009.
Breathing when 62, as I do,
is an accomplishment in the United States. This means I have dodged
the nation’s main killer: cardiovascular disease in all its manifestations, also cancer,
car smashes, and homicide by irate spouses and annoyed children. And “justifiable
homicide”, a chilling term that describes the results of police officers or
armed citizens deciding in a split second that whoever they are pointing a gun
at needs to be dead.
Dodging all internal and
external calamities, and being legally employed for decades brings rewards for
reaching 62. Social security payouts start, New Jersey transits charges half
for train and bus fares.
I was ceremonially
awarded my PhD in Physiology & Pharmacology at the University of New South
Wales in Oct 1978, and then hopped on a plane that took me into Malibu for a canyon fire,
attempted beach rape and nearly driving over a cliff south of Ensenada. After that, for 35
years I have more or less lived quietly in and near Philadelphia.
During this time I married,
gave birth 4 times, changed careers and husbands several times, and become
excruciatingly familiar with family courts, bad business models, and police with guns.
I have been accused by men
with guns of being a driver for a
robbery in South Jersey, being homeless in NJ295, being a terrorist at the
Washington DC Convention Center, of being a stalker in East New York when I
went back to collect my belongings. In East New York, 8 months later, I was
even arrested by men with guns and detained for 8 hours, released when the
arresting officer told me my accuser was “full of s**t”. Everywhere I turn I
see cops with lethal force hanging nonchalantly on their hips. And all I can
ask is “why?”
Why have I not been shot,
as was Trayvon Martin by a stalker out to shoot a black kid, as was Miriam
Carey by cops who were out to shoot a young black mother who made a wrong turn,
as was Jonathan Ferrell by cops who were out to shoot a black man who had
survived a car smash.
Why am I less scary than
any of these martyrs? Because I am breathing while pale? Shame on America. This
country has guns all over the place.
American politicians like
NJ Governor Chris Christie refuses to sign into law bills passed that keep guns
out of the hands of small children and mentally ill. Good God. He has hiked
state taxes for New Jerseyans, forced jobs out of the state, laid off thousands
of educators and turned New Jersey from a winner state to a loser state. And
refuses to make guns and bullets less accessible to anyone.
When cops have the right to
“justifiable homicide” of unarmed young black adults, then they have the right
to shoot everyone. I drove through a
barrier at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Why was I not shot? Why was I asked if I was
ok, and did I need an ambulance? Shame on America. We are either at war with
our citizens, or we are not. If cops are out to kill our citizens, they need to
shoot all of us.
Or we could do something
revolutionary. Take guns and bullets away from cops. Take away from them the
right to “justifiable homicide”. Give them nonlethal force that instantly
immobilizes. And get governors to sign gun laws that lead to outlawing assault
weapons, and preventing children and mentally ill having hunting guns, and the
prosecution of parents whose children have been caught with illegal guns.
I had the enormous
privilege of being witness to the tenth anniversary celebration of Witness to Innocence last night at the
Quaker Meeting House at 1501 Cherry Street.
The grounds also house the
worldwide headquarters of the American Friends Service Committee, an organization
that was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the British Friends Group in
1947. This is the week that the annual Nobel Prize is awarded, so I was
especially delighted at being in the building to hear women and men of faith
and of peace talk about the importance of removing the major human rights
violation that is the death penalty.
Last night we heard from men who had
been accused and convicted of murders they did not commit, and who were
snatched off death row by the efforts of this group, Witness to Innocence.
One man told us that his
high school guidance counselor did not advise him to get himself on death row
for a decade so he could become a motivational speaker and talk about his
experiences. But that is what he is doing.
One man told us he was on
death row for decades because when he was 18, a man was murdered, and he
believed that the system would look through the lies and free him, and the
system would believe the men who had murdered and confessed and that the system
would see that even though he had been forced to confess, he had not done it.
We heard from 2
high-profile opponents of the death penalty, a movie star named Danny Glover,
and an author and Roman Catholic nun Sister Helen Prejean. They both spoke of
the horror of innocent men being shoved through the judicial system, of
prosecutorial and police misconduct and of the “justifiable homicide” by police
in jail executions rooms. Sister Helen told us that if all American citizens
knew how barbaric the death penalty is, and how expensive it is, we would stop
Since March 2013, I have
been involved in prosecutorial and police misconduct. Except not in the United
States, this is happening in South Africa. The men told me themselves they were
targeted for “justifiable homicide” but were not killed because the trap set
for the brother of the President of Congo had not yet caught him. South African
undercover police, heavily armed, under the pretense of being government
officials hiring anti-rhino poachers, drove 19 law-abiding South African
residents, all sons of Congo, north of Pretoria, and then at gunpoint, made
them give up their cell phones and wave some flags, before arresting them all
the next morning under a hail of bullets.
I was struck by the
similarity of what I am doing, and what Witness to Innocence is doing, except I
am coming in at the beginning, and they are rescuing men at the very last
minute. We need Witness to Innocence to expand, put a journalism class in each
court, interviewing each young person accused of a crime.
We need to change the
prosecutorial system. And we need to stop “justifiable homicide” in all its
May God continue to bless and give strength to all the good
people associated with Witness to Innocence.