Photography by Luke Myers.
Photos from the Teach-In on Mass Incarceration and the Death Penalty at the Nashville Public Library, September 13, 2014. Photography by Luke Myers.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the Nashville Teach-In on Mass Incarceration and the Death Penalty, and the Rally to Stop Executions! Here’s some media coverage of the two events:
Coverage of the Teach-In:
“’Teach-in’ takes on death penalty, judicial system,” The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/2014/09/14/teach-takes-death-penalty-judicial-system/15606227/
“Group calling for change to prisons and death penalty,” Fox 17 News, http://www.fox17.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/group-calling-change-prisons-death-penaltymikayla-lewis-23494.shtml
Coverage of the Rally:
“Activists hold rally in downtown Nashville to protest death penalty (Live Coverage),” WSMV Channel 4 News, http://www.wsmv.com/Clip/10585551/activists-hold-rally-in-downtown-nashville-to-protest-death-penalty?fb_action_ids=10203242480876035&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_ref=.VBg12x8AReI.like
“Rally protesting executions in TN held in downtown Nashville,” WSMV Channel 4 News, http://www.wsmv.com/story/26538868/rally-protesting-executions-in-tn-held-in-downtown-nashville
“Anti-death penalty protesters voice concerns on Capitol Hill,” WKRN-TV Channel 2 News, http://www.wkrn.com/story/26536945/anti-death-protesters-voice-concerns-on-tennessees-capitol-hill
Stay tuned for the follow-up to our Open Letter to Stop Executions!
Monday, Sept 15, 12 noon – 1pm
Legislative Plaza (corner of 6th and Charlotte)
As students and educators, we seek to understand the world and to share our understanding with others through a practice of critical thinking and responsible action. Therefore, we cannot remain silent as Tennessee plans to execute people in the name of justice.
We call upon Governor Bill Haslam to suspend all scheduled executions immediately, and to commission a full and transparent review of capital punishment in Tennessee.
Today at noon, Tennessee Students and Educators for Social Justice will send a delegation to deliver our Open Letter to Governor Haslam, asking him to stop currently-scheduled executions and to conduct a full and transparent review of Tennessee’s death penalty system.
Come out and support our delegation! Bring signs to express your views and banners to represent your school, college, community group, or congregation.
Saturday, Sept. 13, 10 am – 4:30 pm
Nashville Public Library, Conference Center
615 Church St, Nashville, TN 37219
10 – 10:15 am Welcome
Activist Art Project: Imagine a World Beyond Prisons
- Carmela Hill-Burke, R.E.A.C.H. Coalition and Vanderbilt Philosophy
Participate in this project all day in the library’s art gallery, across from Room 1a/b!
10:15 – 11:15 am Workshops
51 Years a Slave: The Lie of Truth and Sentencing Laws
- Reverend Jeannie Alexander
- Preston Shipp
- With contributions from men serving 51-year life sentences at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison
SB 1391 and the Criminalization of Pregnancy Outcomes
- Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director
- Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN Legal Director
School to Prison Pipeline
- Eric Brown, Lead Organizer, Children’s Defense Fund
Private Prisons for Fun and Profit, Mostly Profit
- Alex Friedmann, Managing Editor, Prison Legal News
Room 3 Continue reading
1. There are no rich people on death row
- 85-90% of people on death row were financially unable to hire attorneys to represent them at trial. They are assigned public defenders with much higher caseloads and fewer resources than private law firms.
- Public Defender’s offices in both Nashville and Memphis have reported chronic underfunding and understaffing, to the point of not being able to take on a new case (Memphis Commercial Appeal and TBA).
2. There are racial biases in the system
- A study of capital sentencing in Tennessee from 1981 to 2000 found that defendants with white victims were 3.15 to 75 times more likely to receive the death penalty than defendants with black victims (ABA report, p 284).
- More than 1 in 4 black inmates condemned to death in Tennessee from 1977 to 2001 were sentenced by all-white juries (Amnesty, p 40).
3. There is too little oversight and accountability for judges and lawyers in capital cases
- A 2007 study by the American Bar Association found that the TN death penalty system falls short on 10 key points, including Inadequate Procedures to Address Innocence Claims, Lack of Meaningful Proportionality Review, and Failure to Preserve DNA Evidence in Capital Trials. These issues remain unresolved today (ABA report).
- A prosecutor in Shelby County has been publicly reprimanded by the TN Supreme Court for withholding evidence in a capital trial, and yet faces no disciplinary consequences from the DA’s office (Memphis Flyer).
1. What the term means
- The phrase “mass imprisonment” was coined by sociologist David Garland in 2000 to describe the massive expansion of imprisonment in the US between 1975 and the late 1990s. This new regime of punishment differed in two remarkable ways: 1) the sheer scale and magnitude of the increased use of imprisonment in a departure from historic norms and 2) the systematic imprisonment of whole groups of the population without social scientific evidence that punishment has a strong relationship with crime control.
2. Scale: There are more than 2.4 million people behind bars in America
- Approximately one out of every four prisoners on the entire planet are in U.S. prisons, but the United States only accounts for about five percent of the total global population. Since 1980, the number of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons has quadrupled. Incredibly, 41 percent of all young people in America have been arrested by the time they turn 23. 12 million people cycle through prison in a single year. 7 to 8 million people are under some form of criminal justice supervision (including probation and parole).
- Tennessee incarceration rates have gone from just over 100 people incarcerated per 100,000 people in the 1970s to over 400 in 2010.
3. Systematic Imprisonment of groups: Mass incarceration disproportionately impacts people of color
- African-Americans in the 1990s, who only comprised 13% of regular drug users, made up for 35% of drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of people sent to prison for drug possession crimes. The primary drug user was and remains white.
- The incarceration rate for African-American men is more than 6 times higher than it is for white men.
- In Tennessee, African-Americans represent 17 percent of the population but are 44 percent of the incarcerated population.
- An astounding 2 percent of African-American men from age 20 to age 34 with less than a high school education were incarcerated in 2008. 1 out of 3 black men face incarceration across their lifetime.
- There are more African Americans under correctional control today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War
- Native Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are similarly disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration.
Knoxville Teach-In on Mass Incarceration
and the Death Penalty
Wednesday, September 10, 7-9pm
University of Tennessee-Knoxville
McClung Tower, Room 1210
Nashville Teach-In on Mass Incarceration and the Death Penalty
Saturday, September 13, 10 am – 4:30 pm
Nashville Public Library, Conference Center
615 Church St, Nashville, TN 37219
Rally to Stop Executions
Monday, Sept 15, 12 noon – 1pm
Legislative Plaza (corner of 6th and Charlotte)
Tennessee Students and Educators for Social Justice will send a delegation to deliver our Open Letter to Governor Haslam, asking him to stop currently-scheduled executions and to conduct a full and transparent review of Tennessee’s death penalty system. If you have not already signed our letter, click here to add your signature.
Come out and support our delegation! Bring signs to express your views and banners to represent your school, college, community group, or congregation!
Guest post by Michelle Brown
This is the irony or paradox. Political resistance could kill you, well actually the state could in response to your resistance, but the beloved community could save you. Not from physical death. Nothing would do that, not even god. But from meaningless death and despair. One does not negotiate with the state’s use of terror, violent and premature death (actual physical death or disappearance through incarceration). One opposes it and in that opposition finds meaning in black suffering.
Criminal justice in the United States is a project that intersects with race and mortality at every intersection. In laying out this claim, of course, I have the killing of Michael Brown in mind and recent events and actions in Ferguson, Missouri. I also situate this present moment within the growing historical record of patterned, racialized state killing. I mean to point to a kind of disturbance that is foundational, ordinary, routine: Mass incarceration and capital punishment are produced through a host of everyday discretionary decision-making and institutional practices that make up criminal justice, creating the conditions for premature death, like that of Michael Brown. To name only a few of these (and to engage them superficially at best), consider the following:
- the death penalty and its impacts upon the families of victims and the condemned
- the mandate of force that defines policing (officer-involved shootings and killings, militarization, stop and frisk, spatialization and segregation, surveillance, as, in fact, historically foundational to policing)
- life without parole and the slow death of exorbitant sentences under mass incarceration that effectively end lives in prison (see also: http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/111813-lwop-complete-report.pdf)
- the movement of vulnerable children and youth into punitive juvenile and adult systems, damaging their life odds
- racial disparity and plea bargains
- the life disruptions of criminal justice that shorten existence for its subjects, their families and their community members, including the following:
- the carceral separation of families, especially parents and children
- the individual and collective loss of family members who die violent deaths or are disappeared to prisons
- school- and cradle-to-prison pipelines: the foreclosure of children’s lives in custody and suspension when everyday problems are treated as criminal offenses and the resourcing of criminal justice trumps education, health care, employment, safety, etc.
- the chronic stress diseases and premature deaths of loved ones who engage in the exhausting daily work of job, home, and justice, attempting to bring public attention to carceral conditions and maintain contact with their loved ones in confinement
- a continuing disregard for the lifelong needs of victims who may never find the “closure” invoked symbolically by law and media
Guest Post by Susan Hudson McBride
It was April 19 of 2000 when Tennessee executed Robert Glen Coe. That date stands out for me the way a birthday or holiday does. Robert’s family had been driving over to see him as often as they could manage. Each time they came a small group of friends would meet them at a local restaurant allowing them to debrief. This family, Billie Jean, Bonnie, Jimmy, and Frances, would stand by Robert until the drugs that snuffed out his life were administered. And when Robert was gone they would be left behind to grieve and maintain a picture of him as a beloved brother who was set up from childhood to walk a dark path.
It was forty years since the state had executed anyone and they chose a man who was so mentally ill he was given several medications to keep him as close to sane as drugs could do. Robert was different every time someone saw him. He could be thoughtful, terribly funny at times, and then turn on a dime into an angry, difficult being. His affect said there was something not quite right with him. His sisters had seen him horrifically abused by their father. When their father would rape one of the sisters Robert would try to stop it, but he was too small. The father would turn on Robert body slamming his head into walls and throwing him into a fast flowing creek near their house before he knew how to swim. At school he was called names and bullied. When the legal team requested mercy, the poverty, abuse, and lack of local resources and intervention for this family would not be enough for the governor of Tennessee to question the insanity of Robert being strapped with a death sentence.
In 1999 the sabers began to rattle loud enough to get the machinery of death cranked up. Robert had been locked up since 1979 and for some reason the DA’s office needed Robert to die twenty years later. Robert was accused of killing an eight year old girl. Philip Workman’s name, right alongside Robert’s, was accused of killing a police officer in 1982. The deaths of a child and a police officer would reignite the anger of a public who knew little about the facts of either case. It became a media event.
Something happened in the minds and heart of people prior to Robert’s execution. They began to ask questions. Local activists, musicians, and videographers donated their time and expertise to get a message out that something wasn’t quite right. When Robert’s family came to town a core group of people began to hear their story that had not been mined when Robert went to trial. At a gathering of mental health experts one psychologist who had worked on the case said to me, “It’s really too bad he didn’t have a family.” How, I wondered, did a legal team manage to completely overlook a family? Clearly his trial attorneys had been entirely incompetent in their representation of Robert.
Once dates for an execution were set Robert’s family began to come over more often and spend weekends attempting to sort out what was about to happen. A growing number of locals would show up to wish them well. At a house on Acklen Avenue near Hillsboro Village it was not uncommon for there to be a living room full of people singing and eating together with the Coes. They were from a little backwoods town in west Tennessee and quite unused to this sort of attention. We all grew on one another.
One day the family was waiting on a call from Robert while Ann Charvat and I were working on funeral arrangements. Robert called me to the phone. He wanted to know, “What’s the cheapest way to bury me?” I’m aware I’m talking to a man who is in reasonably good physical health about his planned death. I tell him that it looks like cremation is the least costly. “Okay,” he said. “That’s what I want. I’m real worried that my family is gonna have a big price to pay and I want it to be as little as possible.” His concern turned to him being pleased when he learned that several local churches were covering the cost and his family would not have to carry any of the debt. A local funeral home contributed the entire service at their cost with no profit to anyone. It was an odd victory on the way to killing a man.
In spite of the intent by the state to heap up a hateful end to Robert’s life it was the kindness of friends and a few strangers who allowed him to die in relative peace. That the family would be the ones left to suffer fell on very deaf political ears. The forgiveness they have shown makes them all the more remarkable.
Robert’s family continues to reach out to family members of those facing state execution in Tennessee.
Susan Hudson McBride first considered the death penalty as an issue at eight years old when her mother took her on a field trip to see Alabama’s “Yellow Mama,” the state’s legendary electric chair. Since time she has been involved with prisons as an activist for thirty-six years and as part of death penalty legal teams for twelve of those years. In 1998 she began work with murder victims’ family members including the loved ones of those who had been executed. Presently she is a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School.