Fundamentally Flawed: Capital Punishment Follow Up


There are two sides to every story. On one side you have a 14 year old girl, Tryna Middleton. An innocent girl who grew up a couple blocks from where my house is in East Cleveland, Ohio. Tryna Middleton attended Shaw High School, the same high school that I graduated from. A girl who literally was taught by one of the same teachers that taught me in high school. According to the attorney general’s office on September 21st 1984, Tryna was raped before being murdered by 7 stab wounds to her chest.

Bessye Middleton holds a portrait of her daughter Tryna

Bessye Middleton holds a portrait of her daughter Tryna

There are two sides to every story. On the other side you have Romell Broom. A man who committed actions that cannot be justified in anyway. A rapist who deserves to be punished. A murderer who should very well face the penalty of our laws.

East Cleveland (the neighborhood where I went to high school) is a poverty stricken area, and was hit with a mortgage crisis before the recent recession became so popular to talk about (decades before). When you walk around my neighborhood it is no surprise to walk down streets that are filled with a majority of boarded up houses. I talked to an elderly man in my neighborhood about the botched execution and he said “There wouldn’t of needed to be no damn execution if a man killed my daughter, and it wouldn’t of took 25 years to do it, I would of shot him right away” (You have to love the double negatives). The community I live in obviously feels passionate about crimes like this, and most people I talk to say he deserves to die. As I survey myself, while struggling to keep an unbiased perspective, I realize the fact still remains that I don’t want the convicted Romell Broom to be killed by the state. He was wrong, very wrong, and didn’t care about Tryna’s life, yet, the thing I still believe in most is that 1000 guilty men dead, is not worth the life of 1 innocent man. And innocent people have already died at the hands of capital punishment.

Brooms execution was originally re-scheduled for September 22, 2009 (yesterday), but that day was postponed due to a court order by U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost.  Broom’s attorney will begin to litigate U.S. Constitution, Ohio Constitution, and Ohio statutory claims on his client’s behalf. “Broom should not be executed because the state tried once and failed,” said Tim Sweeney, Broom’s defense attorney. Sweeney is trying to get Romell Broom’s prison sentence to be changed to life in prison.

There is two sides to every story, and many times there is never a clear right and wrong answer. In this case I think it is best to look at what our constitution says. And not allow our anger for a man’s actions to compromise the freedoms and civil liberties that all human beings will still need after Romell Broom is long gone. Tim Sweeny said it best, “There is no question that poor, beautiful girl did suffer, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Constitution applies to everyone. Even people who have been convicted of crimes”

In my initial blog on this issue last week, I gave a brief description of why I am against the death penalty. But I would like to conclude my thoughts by elaborating and use the ACLU’s seven reasons why they are working to end capital punishment:

1. In the last 30 years more than 100 prisoners that have been convicted of capital crimes and sentenced to death were released from death row with strong evidence of their innocence.

2. If serious mistakes occur in charging someone with a capital crime, or if there are errors in sentencing or in the appeals process, there is no recourse when an innocent person is executed.

3. Because most people are poor, too many defendants are forced to depend on incompetent or token representation. In fact, one lawyer fell asleep while defending his client. Other lawyers have appeared drunk during trials.
4. Racial discrimination taints capital cases. Those who kill white people are far more likely to get the death penalty, than those who kill black people.
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5. Prosecuting a death penalty case is enormously expensive for a state. It cost much more than sentencing a prisoner to life without parole.

6. The death penalty has never been applied fairly across race, class, and gender lines. Who is sentenced to die often depends on the attitudes of prosecutors, the prejudices of judges and juries, and the skills of the defense attorney.

7. The death penalty is not a deterrent to crime.

Must be the Money

I hate money ’cause it makes me numb. – M.I.A.

Yesterday, I had to stop by the main library on campus to return a recalled book.  (I’m coming for you, book recaller! What am I supposed to use for coasters now that you’ve taken a liking to all my books on racial passing?  You suck!)  There were a bunch of first years standing in line waiting to take their ID photos.  People were smiling at each other; they seemed both nervous and… happy.  Which is totally weird for the place where fun comes to die.  Then I remembered: school is about to start.  And I became happy, too.  Why?  The beginning of autumn quarter means money is about to come to me.  Please cue Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid.”  (By the way, I think back in ’88 I might’ve had a crush on the woman in this video.  She was in Kwame’s “The Rhythm” right?)  It’s time for my beginning of the year shimmy + two-step.

Cruel and Unusual? Indeed.

Amnesty International is a non-governmental international organization that often campaigns against human rights abuse and calls for international compliance to standards of ethics. Lethal injection is the standard method of execution in the United States.


Amnesty has issued a report stating that the cocktail of drugs used in lethal injections can cause excruciating pain and can also cause paralysis so that the convict can’t scream or in any way show that they are in pain. 

Mobs, Cracker Barrel, and Hunters . . . Oh My!

So, what does a frog, a violent racist white man, and non-violent racially complicit white people have in common? Well, they’re all  mammals. No, that’s not the answer because a frog is an amphibian. What they have in common is that they all contribute if not directly participate in the abuse of black women. I know at this point, many of you are wondering how so and in particular how the frog figures into the equation. Well, I’m glad you asked young grasshopper. Inspired by summer’s You Gon’ Be All Right: On Maia Campbell and (More on) Tyler Perry, I decided that I too wanted to map connections between dissimilar current events to talk about how they represent normal and normalizing narratives of violence against black women. The stories I want to talk about are the upcoming Disney movie, The Frog and the Princess and the Cracker Barrel Nut. I know for some of you these stories seem inconsequential to each other. However, if you look closer you will see common strands of violence against black women.

So, let’s begin with talking about Disney’s The Frog and the Princess. Of, course there are many critiques to throw against this movie from the emphasis on girls being Princesses to the racist stereotyping of African cosmologies.  However, the bone I have to pick with the film today has to do with the “white” hillbilly “frog” hunters pursuing and hoping to eat the first Black Princess, Princess Tiana, who spends the majority of the film as a frog. Of course, I am pretty sure Disney like the rest of Post-Race America is banking on black people being so desirous of a black princess that they will only see the “clueless” and “stupidly innocent” nature of the white frog hunters because how could the hunters know the true “human nature” of princess Tiana. (In my best sarcastic voice) Just like how could Glen Beck and Joe Wilson know that their comments about Barack Obama were racist they were only saying what they felt they didn’t call him the “N” word. And my response to this hogwash is that’s some cow dung. Yep, just in case you did not catch it I said “cow dung” instead of using the four letter expletive.

Even if the white hillbilly frog hunters are impervious to Princess Tiana’s humanity the historical and at times very present nature (i.e. Duke Lacrosse Team gang rape of Black female Dancer) of white male mobs “hunting” black women’s bodies should have signaled an alarm. But, it did not because it’s all too common of a practice to abuse or to imagine abusing black women whether they are human or in “frog” form. If you are skeptical of my claim all one has to do is look at the footage of the Boston Tea Party March on DC, go to a Cracker Barrel, read about what happened to Semenya, or type the phrase “black girl” into any search engine to know black women like other women of color are subjected to the most violent and horrific forms of real and imaginary physical and sexual abuse and often without legal, societal, and communal recourse.

And let’s be honest, Disney is not completely clueless to the historical meaning of white mobs because if they were the white hillbilly frog hunters would be featured in The Frog and the Princess’ movie trailers, but they are not. To know that they are a part of the movie you have to visit The Frog and the Princess’ Facebook Fan Page. 5655_151497223708_99911703708_3551667_1534218_nThere you meet the white hillbilly hunters—Two Fingers, Reggie, and Darnell.  And of course, Disney makes sure to mention how “dim witted” the klan clan is as if their dim wittedness and “hunger” for frog legs is suppose to make us feel as if they do not really mean “intentional” harm to Princess Tiana because if they, the klan clan of hunters, knew she was human than they would not harm her. Yeah right. What crack is Disney smoking? It must be that good stuff that Whitney referred to in her interview with Diane Sawyer. Because if we bring into the conversation the historical setting of the movie—French Quarter turn of the century— white supremacy and racism was the law of the land meaning white men could easily rape and kill black women without retribution meaning the seemingly innocent dim witted white hunters in Disney’s film could literally not only eat frog legs, but also devour black women’s flesh through rape.

And of course, we don’t have to look at historical times to see how white men have violent access to black women’s bodies. Just look at what happened to Tashawnea Hill and 7-year old daughter at a Georgia’s Cracker Barrel. Ms. Hill, an African American woman, was beaten by Troy West, a white man, because she asked him politely to watch out when opening the door at Cracker Barrel. At this affront, Troy West started to beat Ms. Hill and call her Black Nigger Bitch. No one intervened to help her and her daughter. Furthermore, Ms. Hill recalled how some of the white patrons grinned in delight as she was beaten senseless. Can you believe that no one helped her? Perhaps, it isn’t difficult not to believe because just a month ago a black woman was beaten by her husband in broad daylight and no one interviewed to help her.

And of course of many of you are saying what does all of this have to do with an animated Disney Film? Well, it has everything to do with it because movies like The Frog and the Princess and Monster’s Ball represent what is normal, acceptable, if not downright desirous behavior toward and of black women. It becomes publicly sanctioned behavior for men irrespective of race to abuse black women. Therefore, Disney’s animation and characterization of the white hunters as dim witted white hillbillies minimizes the intended violence of the hunters, makes their violence normal, and makes their “hunger” a justified reason for killing Princess Tiana. This all too well reminds me of what a white man screamed at the Boston Tea Party March on DC this last Saturday. Holding a sign that read, “We did not bring guns this time,” a middle age white man begins to fuss about how he lost his job and how the government is too big because of black welfare queens. I know all too well how his words and job loss can justify the retrenchment and sidewalk abuse of black women during this recession time.

Lions and tigers and bears Mobs, Cracker Barrels, and Hunters . . . Oh My!

Fundamentally Flawed!!!

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Romell Broom

Romell Broom, 53 year old death row inmate, began to help the executioners do their job. He scuffled to put pressure on the left side of his body while he slid the rubber tubing up his left arm. They attempted to stick him with a needle, it didn’t hold. Romell continued by moving his arm in a vertical motion, while he flexed and clinched his fist tight into a ball, as the doctors (AKA grim reapers AKA the execution team), once again stuck him with a needle while searching for a vein, and once again it didn’t hold. Finally, after two hours of this struggle, the execution team was able to find a vein, but it literally collapsed when the technicians attempted to insert saline fluid.

If you can’t tell by now, I am already against the death penalty. And in my opinion this event, that occurred yesterday(September 16, 2009) should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (where I worked this summer) called on state officials to immediately put a halt to executions, following the attempted execution of Romell Broom. The procedure was botched after the execution team failed to locate a viable vein after several hours of searching. Governor Strickland delayed Broom’s execution for one week in light of these problems.

This follows two other botched executions in Ohio beginning with Joseph L. Clark in May 2006 and Christopher Newton in May 2007. Both of these executions were eventually completed despite officials struggling to find viable veins on the men.

ACLU of Ohio Staff Counsel Carrie Davis said, “Governor Strickland must not allow another execution to happen in Ohio . The system used to carry out executions has been shown to be faulty and dangerous. If the state is going to take a person’s life, they must ensure that it is done as humanely as possible. With three botched executions in as many years, it’s clear that the state must stop and review the system entirely before another person is put to death,”

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Hopefully someone will get the picture and realize that state sponsored killing is not the best way to go. It is actually more expensive to kill a person with lethal injection, than it is to sentence an individual with life in prison and it is still racially unequal. Furthermore, with the advancement of technology and DNA samples, individuals that were killed on death row had later been found innocent of the crime. MEANING THE STATE HAS KILLED INNOCENT PEOPLE. Well, keeping in mind the wars we have been involved in just within the last 50 years (and recent torturing episodes at guantanomo), it definitely is not the first time.

Swagger-less Politicians

Barack Obama has it. What is it? Some call it swagger, some call it panache, and others say that it is uncanny composure. Nonetheless, it is an intangible characteristic that helps him appeal to the masses (obviously excluding politics). However, it seems as if today more than ever, Obama is in a class by himself when it comes to politicians with personality. By personality I don’t mean the ability to come up with cutesy retorts and one-liners to make the news cycle. I mean the ability to embrace their individuality without buying into the stiff suit cohort. Where are the politicians who enjoy spoken word, ride Harleys, and who are unashamed to say they listen to rap music? To be honest, many in mainstream America are uninformed. A lot of the electorate casts their ballots based on issues completely unrelated to candidate’s voting records and credentials. For some it’s race or gender, but for many it’s relatability. When Barack Obama said that he had Jay-z on his ipod it resonated with many people who weren’t necessarily entrenched in the political sphere. When Sarah Palin talked about her time as a hockey mom, many middle-aged mothers rejoiced that they could vote for someone just like them.

You Gon' Be All Right: On Maia Campbell and (More on) Tyler Perry

Note: I know this post is mad long.  I’ll be more succinct in the future.  I know you have better things to do.

Last week, I didn’t take the opportunity to blog about Maia Campbell, something that I had fully intended to do.  Instead, my only significant output was a blog about Tyler Perry taking over command of the for colored girls film.  I worry that not allowing myself time to post my thoughts about Campbell was an implicit, unspoken participation in the suppression and dismissal of her situation, her struggles.  I want to correct that.  Further, I want to make a connection to both events, which is something I haven’t seen folks do, but I find especially necessary at this juncture.