The Great Smoke Screen

by Charla Greene, Abolition Road
The death penalty is really just a smoke screen used by politicians to make it appear that they are solving the problems of violence and, by inference, all of the problems we face in today’s world. Candidates for offices like Governor say “Vote for me and I’ll kill more people,” and the public goes along with that mindset. DAs use it to show that they are “solving” whatever crime is making the headlines, a useful tactic in their quest for higher office. If there is a local crime that the media can sensationalize, then the DA really has to go for special circumstances, regardless of what the case actually warrants, otherwise his political career is in danger. I think that must be what happened to Rosie, a Latina who is now on death row at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
Here is a woman who became addicted to drugs when she was just a kid, and whose crime was greatly influenced by that fact. Her case has so many mitigating circumstances that anyone with a conscience could see she was also a victim. But she is a minority, and I doubt she had funds for a private legal team, so she fit into the profile of an easy win for the DA. Of the condemned population in this country, over 50% are minorities and low income. There is a saying that goes “You won’t find a rich person on death row” that pretty much describes the facts behind the great smoke screen.
What about Doris Raven Foster in Maryland, a Native American woman who went drinking one night with a boyfriend and woke up the next morning to find a dead woman in the house and her “friend” insisting that she killed her? Doris doesn’t know; she doesn’t remember. All she knows now is that she got death penalty and he got seven months for turning state’s evidence against her. But what’s the true story?
The disparity in sentencing is no surprise. Articles have appeared in various newspapers for the last six years talking about the increase in death sentences for women, even though there has been no increase in violent crimes done by women. It could reflect less tolerance for women who dare to kill their abusers. In 1993, almost half the women on death row have a history of abuse and most women who are imprisoned for killing an abusive partner are first time offenders. Some don’t even have to kill, they are convicted by association. Faye Copeland in Kansas, at 77 the oldest woman on death row, spent 50 years in a marriage with a man so abusive that all of their six children left home as soon as they could to escape his cruelty. When he was convicted of killing five itinerant workers, she was also convicted and sentenced to death along with him. She was convicted because “she must have known something was going on,” even though she has always claimed innocence. He has since died in prison; she is still living on condemned row, still in an abusive situation.
We’ve got to stop the further abuse of individuals and of our whole society by being subjected to the brutality of the death penalty. We can hope that the recent interest by the U.N. in investigaing the death penalty in the U.S. will bring international pressure on this violation of human rights and force the U.S. to abandon its injustice.