Playing catch-up: Me in The Forward.

Last week I also started writing for The Forward, which is a very nice thing! I’ll be cutting-and-pasting the top and then linking to the rest, but unlike Haaretz, there’s no registration/paywall so if you really want to read to the end, it’ll be a little easier. I’m a bit behind though, so following you’ll find TWO tops, and TWO links. (Because I’m behind, but ultimately thorough).

Are Gas Chambers Making a Comeback in U.S.?

Lying at the heart of every political position I hold is an undying faith in human fallibility. Not only might we get things wrong, we will get things wrong – just as we got things wrong last week and last year and last war, forever and ever, back and back, all the way into our misty past.

Fortunately, history is chock-a-block with examples that prove my faith to be unassailable. In fact, it’s hard to know which example would be most illustrative here. Knowing the world is flat? Check. How about knowing we’d be greeted as liberators? Check and check. Or no, I have one: Gas chambers.

Gas chambers. Just saying the words fills the mind with horror and images unbidden – though I’ll bet they don’t involve Wyoming.

to read the rest, please click here.

What Yair Netanyahu’s Norwegian Dating Game Tells Us

It’s easy for liberal Jews to write off the hullabaloo regarding the dating habits of one of Israel’s better known sons as just that: Hullabaloo. Sound and fury signifying nothing, or maybe signifying a prurient interest in famous lives, or possibly signifying a helplessly stultified and hidebound worldview that has nothing to do with us. Or, you know, politics.

But the Sturm und Drang in certain Jewish circles about Yair Netanyahu’s (maybe?) girlfriend is bigger than that – as evidenced by the speed with which his father the Prime Minister has turned around to deny the romance. It goes to the heart of the Jewish experience and the soul of our people. Who are we, how do we define ourselves? Whether or not we realize it, that’s what we’re talking about, and ultimately, these questions go to the heart and soul of how the Jewish faith is conducted everywhere, not least in the Jewish State.

to read the rest, please click here.



Troy Davis’s birthday.

Troy Davis should be turning 44 today; instead, we just marked the first anniversary of his unwarranted execution at the hands of the State of Georgia.

My friend Jen Marlowe, the filmmaker behind those powerful videos produced by Amnesty International in the fight for Troy’s life, produced the following video in his memory, calling on all of us to continue the work that Troy began from his prison cell, the work to abolish the death penalty. One way to do that is to support Amnesty in their fight against the death penalty; another way is to work for the passage of Prop 34 in California, which would abolish the death penalty in that state, and replace it with life in prison without possibility of parole.

In Troy’s own words:

We can correct all the wrongs if we just continue to stand together, and that’s what’s most important. We need to continue to stand together and educate each other, and don’t give up the fight.

We are all Troy Davis, now.

Reggie Clemons update.

From the Amnesty International blog:

The Special Master hearing to review the Reggie Clemons case was halted on Thursday, but with more testimony and legal filings to come. In fact, the Special Master process looks to continue well into next year.  Given what’s at stake, and given the troubling nature of the case, taking more time is not a bad thing. 

The allegations of police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct which feature prominently inAmnesty International’s report on the case were highlighted during the hearing. The alleged police abuse of Clemons, and the similar abuse of the state’s star witness Tom Cummins – acknowledged by a $150,000 settlement – are particularly disturbing and call into question the fairness of the investigation and prosecution in this case.

DNA testing, which the state argued connected one of the co-defendants to the crime, took center stage on Thursday, while Monday and Wednesday (there were no witnesses heard on Tuesday), the treatment of Reggie Clemons in police custody, and the prosecutor’s apparent editing of Tom Cummins’ statement to police, were featured.

As this process moves forward, with depositions and legal briefs, and perhaps closing arguments later this year, this review of the problematic investigation and prosecution of Reggie Clemons, and the doubt and confusion those problems have caused, will continue to provide a good example of why the irreversible punishment of death should have no place in our imperfect criminal justice system.

If you haven’t signed the Amnesty petition for Reggie Clemons yet, please do so.


Reggie Clemons, sentenced to die.

Please note update, below.

A year ago today was Troy Davis’s last full day on earth. Tomorrow will be the anniversary of his execution, an execution carried out despite not just reasonable but breathtaking doubt.

Today, Reggie Clemons faces a horrifyingly similar circumstance, convicted and sentenced to death as an accomplice to the murder of two young women in 1991, despite a disturbing number of problems in the case against him, including: a lack of any physical evidence, compromised eyewitnesses, allegations of police brutality, prosecutorial behavior described by judges as “abusive and boorish,” a stacked jury, and inadequate legal representation — and then there’s the question of race.

Victims Robin and Julie Kerry drowned in the Mississippi River after falling from the Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis. Their cousin Thomas Cummins originally confessed to the acts which led to one young woman falling and the other jumping to try to save her, but charges against Cummins were dropped after he identified other suspects, among them Clemons. The Kerry sisters, Cummins, and one other codefendant were all white; the other suspects, all African American. After a lengthy legal process (including testimony from the white co-defendant, Daniel Winfrey, who reportedly told a friend he would lie to get a plea bargain — because he knew his word would be taken over that of a group of black men), Winfrey was given a deal and released on parole in 2007, co-defendant Marlin Gray was executed in 2005, co-defendant Antonio Richardson is serving a life sentence, and Clemons was scheduled for execution on June 17, 2009. I’m unclear as to when Missouri’s Supreme Court granted a stay and appointed a “special master” to hear evidence in Clemons’s case, but that hearing began on Monday.

The Guardian ran a great package summarizing the case last month, including video in which Clemons tells the reporter:

I remember the police mainly beating me in the chest…. While they were beating me they were telling me what they wanted me admit to…. If you believe that someone is willing to beat you to death, while they’re beating you they can just about get you to admit anything.

A reporter who’s been covering the case in the US tells The Guardian:

The day that Reginald Clemons is sentenced to death, Thomas Cummins…gets paid $150,000 to settle a police brutality case. The police brutality that Thomas Cummins alleged was indistinguishable in detail from what Reginald Clemons alleged. And Reginald Clemons is sentenced to death. Partly on the basis of the confession that was beaten out of him which shouldn’t have been allowed in court.

The Guardian reported in August that the new hearing was expected to last a week — which means that Reggie Clemons’s fate may well be decided in the next few days.

In an editorial that appeared today, The St. Louis American saw reason for hope in questions posed by the special master, Judge Michael Manners:

At another point, Judge Manners interrupted Jeanene Moenckmeier, one of Clemons’ original trial attorneys. She had been called to the stand to testify about a troubling piece of evidence that prosecutor Nels Moss was requested to provide in Clemons’ jury trail but never did turn over to the defense. It is a copy of a draft police report on Cummins, the first suspect in the 1991 murders of Julie and Robin Kerry who became the prosecution’s star witness. Moss admitted in court to hand-correcting the draft police report, dated May 6, 1991. Most of Moss’ changes, which made Cummins look less guilty and more credible, were made in the final police report, dated May 31, 1991, that was entered into evidence in Clemons’ jury trial.

“Did you have a copy of the May 6 report?” Judge Manners interrupted to ask Moenckmeier. She said, “No.” Judge Manners followed up, “Was the May 6 report introduced in court?” She said, “No.”

This suggests that Judge Manners takes very seriously the fact that a prosecutor would tamper with a police report in a capital trial and then withhold evidence of his tampering when asked to provide it to the defense.

In the words of the editorial writer:

Whatever one believes actually happened on the Chain of Rocks Bridge on the tragic night of April 4, 1991, a trial where a prosecutor is allowed to change a police report to benefit his case, and then not provide that evidence to the defense, is not a trial whose verdict should be respected. 

The day before he was killed, Troy Davis released the following statement:

The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath.

We are the only ones who can carry on the work to which Troy Davis and his family dedicated themselves. In his memory, and in the name of justice for all, please go to Amnesty International, and take action for Reggie Clemons.

UPDATE: The Special Master hearing is likely to go on for some time, possibly into next year, and Amnesty says this is probably a good thing.

Update on the scheduled executions of Warren Hill and Yokamon Hearn.

Following up on Monday’s post regarding the scheduled executions of two mentally disabled men, Warren Hill and Yokamon Hearn:

Georgia decided yesterday to postpone the execution of Hill until next Monday, “as it makes changes to its lethal-injection protocol… switching to a single drug, pentobarbital, from a combination of three drugs.” Yokamon Hearn is still scheduled to be executed in Texas today.

If you’re in/near Georgia, here’s a list of vigil sites for Warren Hill; if you’re in/near Texas, here’s a list of sites for Yokamon Hearn.

Please go if you can. These men, mentally disabled or not, are entirely guilty of their crimes — and adding to the death toll will help no one, least of all their victims. We need to find a way to not choose death when the option to choose life yet remains.

On Warren Hill, Yokamon Hearn, and the ethics of the death penalty.

UPDATE, 7/18/12: Georgia decided on Tuesday to postpone the execution of Warren Hill until next Monday, “as it makes changes to its lethal-injection protocol… switching to a single drug, pentobarbital, from a combination of three drugs.” Yokamon Hearn is scheduled to be executed today.

When Troy Davis was executed in September, hundreds of thousands of people understood the state of Georgia to have murdered an innocent man.

Georgia now stands ready to execute Warren Hill, a man with mental retardation — coincidentally on the same day, Wednesday, that Texas plans to execute Yokamon Hearn, a man “who has, since early childhood, shown clear and consistent evidence of brain damage.”

Unlike Davis, who was almost certainly innocent, however, Hill and Hearn are guilty of the crimes for which they have been sentenced. Hill is guilty not only of killing his girlfriend in 1986, but also of killing his prison cellmate in 1991; Hearn shot a man several times in the head in the midst of a car-jacking. These crimes are horrific, and I’ll be honest: The fact of either man’s mental disability means little to me in terms of my horror.

But my horror will not be lessened, nor will anyone be made safer, if additional people are killed.

Copious studies have shown that the death penalty doesn’t serve as a deterrent, just as copious cases have shown our legal system’s frightening fallibility. The death penalty tends to be expensive for taxpayers, and legal analyst Andrew Cohen argues at The Atlantic that death penalty cases are too often used to score what amount to ideological points:

At their best, [the Hill and Hearn] cases represent warped legal reasoning. At their worst, [they] represent the cynical use of such reasoning in the pursuit of the unjust and the unreasonable.

All of these are important factors, but they matter about as much to me as does the mental capacity of the two men set to be killed on Wednesday — which is to say: Very, very secondarily.

I realize that the following is neither nuanced, nor analytic, but occasionally the ethics of a circumstance require neither:  Bottom line, the death penalty is wrong. Killing people is wrong.

In a moment of self-defense, in an effort to protect others, or while in the course of a war in which the dead wear uniforms — we have made exceptions for these cases, because sometimes we must weigh one evil against another. Such is human reality. We must sometimes accept that which is unacceptable because we have no choice.

But the death penalty is never such a case. When we execute people — whether they are innocent like Troy Davis and Cameron Todd Willingham, mentally disabled like Warren Hill or Yokamon Hearn, or just straight-up guilty like Scott Peterson — we are making a choice. We are sitting at our desks in air conditioned comfort, going home to tuck in our children and sleep in our beds, getting up in the morning and looking ourselves in the mirror.

And choosing death.

It’s never right. Never.

If you’re in/near Georgia, here’s a list of vigil sites for Warren Hill; if you’re in/near Texas, here’s a list of sites for Yokamon Hearn.

To my mind, these are not vigils simply for the men in question, but for our nation and, if you will forgive me, our soul. If you have a chance to go, please do.

Please help Troy Davis’s family.

Troy Davis & his family in a picture taken before the prison cut off "contact visits."

Readers of this blog will remember that I spent a few weeks this fall laser-focused on the case of Troy Davis, an innocent man on Georgia’s Death Row who, despite all evidence against him crumbling over the course of his incarceration, was executed on September 21. You can read the pieces I placed in The Atlantic online here: “Explaining the death penalty to my children” and here: “Troy Davis and the reality of doubt.”  You’ll find the post I wrote the day after Troy was murdered here.

I spent several weeks laser-focused on the Troy Davis case, but some people have spent several years, such as my friend Jen Marlowe. Working with Amnesty International, she did everything from producing a powerful series of videos telling his story, to counting signatures calling for the state of Georgia to spare his life. She came to know and love the Davis family, and her work on their behalf continues — in no small part because their tragedies didn’t end with Troy’s execution.

Indeed, the tragedies didn’t even start there. Troy’s mother Virginia died suddenly in April 2011, a death her daughter Martina was sure was a result of simple heartbreak over Troy’s failure to win a commutation of his sentence. Martina herself had been struggling with breast cancer for a decade when Troy was killed; two months after burying her brother, Martina herself died. The boy they all left behind, De’Jaun Davis-Correia, is an outstanding high school student who looked up to his uncle as a father-figure and is today hoping to attend Georgia Tech, where he wants to major in industrial engineering. It is a sign of the strength and the beauty of this family that De’Jaun is already a dedicated death penalty activist, and has been named by The Root as one of its “25 Young Futurists” for 2012. I cannot imagine how he gets up in the morning, much less makes plans.

But sorrow and loss aren’t the end of it. Three funerals in the space of seven months and years of cancer-related hospitalizations have resulted in bills that would overwhelm anyone.

For that reason, Jen (who is currently working on a book about Troy and Martina) is raising funds for the Davis family. Here’s the letter she sent out this week:

The Davis family lost three warriors for justice in the past seven months. Virginia Davis, the matriarch of the family, passed in April, just two weeks after the US Supreme Court denied Troy’s final appeal, paving the way for the state of Georgia to set a new execution date. According to Martina, her mother died of a broken heart–she couldn’t bear another execution date. Troy was executed on September 21, despite an international outcry over executing a man amid such overwhelming doubt. Troy’s sister and staunchest advocate, Martina, succumbed to her decade-long battle with cancer on December 1, exactly two months after her brother Troy’s funeral, leaving behind a teenaged son.

There are still outstanding medical and funeral bills that the Davis family must pay.

The Davis family has had to bear more tragedy and sorrow than any family should ever have to. Together, we can ensure that the financial aspect of these losses will not be a burden to them.

I have set up a simple way to contribute online to the family. I hope you will choose to help, and that you will share this information with others. All you have to do is click this link: Any amount will be highly appreciated and will help them greatly!

Please circulate this information to others you think may be interested in helping.

Any questions can be directed to Jen Marlowe at donkeysaddle [at] gmail [dot] com.

In solidarity with all the Davis family has been fighting for and in sorrow for all they have had to endure,
Jen Marlowe
Troy Davis Campaign

If you are in a position to help, please do so. As Jen says, any amount will be helpful, and in the end, all the little amounts add up. Please also pass the word along to any and all who might be able to join in the effort.

Troy Davis is not here to help his family through this ordeal — those of us who fought for his life must now do so for him.

Death penalty abolition advocate Martina Davis-Correia, sister of Troy Davis, has died.

Martina Davis-Correia, surrounded by friends and family on the day of her brother Troy Davis's execution. Her son DeJaun, who Troy helped to raise from behind prison walls, is standing directly behind her.

Martina Davis-Correia, sister of Troy Davis, died last Friday. Diagnosed with breast cancer a decade ago, Martina was given a prognosis of six months — she stayed alive, she said, to fight for her brother. That fight lost on September 21, I can’t help but feel that her own battle must have become much harder.

In the course of struggling for her brother’s life, Martina became a leading figure in the movement to abolish the death penalty: “Even as Martina’s health failed,” Amnesty International said last week in a statement honoring her life, “she was making plans to continue her work against the death penalty in her brother’s memory, as he urged his supporters to do just before he was put to death.”

But the losses of Troy and Martina are not the only ones the Davis family has suffered this year — their mother, Virginia Davis, died unexpectedly in April. I’m not sure what I believe about the after-life, but I know that the Davis family has long shared a deep Christian faith (Troy would regularly lead a prayer circle for the family at the end of their visits, even when new prison rules would no longer allow him skin-to-skin contact with his family). I hope that the Davises and all who love them are finding some comfort in the idea that Virginia, Troy and Martina are with each other again.

Unsurprisingly, fighting both breast cancer and her brother’s death sentence did not leave Martina or her family with much money. Her friend Jen Marlowe — my friend, too, and the filmmaker who produced the Amnesty videos about Troy’s case — is helping to raise funds to help the Davis family pay for Martina’s funeral and her outstanding hospital bills.

I cannot help Troy or Martina in any way anymore, and I cannot help their family much. But I can give a little of what I have to help them pay their bills. I can help take one worry off their shoulders.

Please read the following letter from Jen, and if you feel that you can make a contribution — no matter how small — please do so. Let’s honor Martina, and Troy, and the mother who held them both in her arms as best we can.


Dear friends,

As you know, funds are needed for the funeral expenses of Martina Davis-Correia, as well as her remaining medical bills.

The Davis family has had to bury three loved ones in the past seven months. Virginia Davis, the matriarch of the family, passed in April, just two weeks after the US Supreme Court denied Troy’s final appeal, paving the way for the state of Georgia to set a new execution date. According to Martina, her mother died of a broken heart–she couldn’t bear another execution date. Troy was executed on September 21, despite an international outcry over executing a man amid such overwhelming doubt. Martina succumbed to her decade-long battle with cancer on December 1, exactly two months after her brother Troy’s funeral.

The Davis family has had to bear more tragedy and sorrow than any family should ever have to. Together, we can ensure that the financial aspect of these losses will not be a burden to them.

I sent a notice out a few days ago about a fund for Martina, to cover her funeral and medical bills. I wanted to let you know that contributions can also be made via paypal, using the email address:

Checks can also be made out to: “The Martina Davis-Correia Fund”
and sent to:
Capitol City Bank and Trust
339 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Savannah, GA 31419

Martina’s funeral is December 10, which is International Human Rights Day. A more fitting date could not be found to celebrate the life of a woman who was one of the staunchest defenders of human rights that I have ever had the privilege to call my friend.

Thank you in advance for any support you can offer, in any amount.

In solidarity,
Jen Marlowe

Good stuff: The singer-songwriter wrote a song for me!

On Saturday night I posted the now-timeless ditty “No the Civil War Really Was About Slavery,” penned, sung and recorded on Friday by fellow Ta-Nehisi Coates commenter HappySurge (aka Sergi Avteniev), and I urged you to go to listen to the rest of his work on Youtube.

Much excitement abounded about the song in yesterday’s Open Thread, so he wrote another, this one in response to the Rick Perry/Herman Cain/Niggerhead brou-ha-ha, called appropriately enough There Are No Racists Here.

Much excitement abounded about that, so he wrote another one — this one a thank you to me! O_O It’s about the death penalty! (You know you’re loved when your friends write songs about capital punishment with you in mind). And it’s really, really, really good. Really.

So, without further ado, I present to you There Are No Racists Here (favorite verse: “Now, if you want to know some racists, Hitler was a racist/ Because a racist is someone who is racist all the time/ Like Henry Louis Gates who wakes up at Harvard teaching hate/ But there are no racists here”) followed by the chill-inducing Two Hundred and Thirty-Four Graves (“everybody said/ You better kill that kid/ He ain’t no good, but he’ll be damn good dead”). Lyrics after the jump.


Troy Davis – funeral expenses.

The folks who were most closely involved with advocating for Troy Davis are now raising money so that his family can give him the funeral they feel he deserves. I still find it almost unfathomable that the State of Georgia actually killed him. It just seems almost literally unimaginable to me. But of course his family will now face the reality and nature of his death every day from here and unto eternity. If you would like to contribute to Mr. Davis’s funeral, please write to my friend Jen Marlowe at, tell her who sent you, and she’ll set you up.

If you’d like to take action to continue the fight against the death penalty in Mr. Davis’s name but don’t know where to start, you can click here for my thoughts and ideas, and here for those of Peter Rothberg, Associate Publisher of The Nation. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: The only way for Troy Davis to continue his struggle for justice is for us to carry his spirit in our hands. It’s on us now. We are Troy Davis.

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