George Stinney was 14-years old when he was sent to his death in the electric chair 70 years ago. His conviction was a by-product of the shame of Jim Crow, a racially biased system that was quick to condemn black males. It took a jury of 12 white men just 10 minutes to declare the youngster guilty in the murder of two white girls, Betty June Bennicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 7. The trial lasted about five hours and according to reports, no witnesses were presented, there was no physical evidence, and no appeal was filed sealing his fate to the electric chair. And as far as we know, no petition was filed to spare the youth the death sentence on the grounds that he was just a child. Stinney was so small that he had to be propped up on a phone book to sit on the electric chair.Stinney was from the small town of Alcolu, SC, and today Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen ruled that the state did a great injustice by executing Stinney less than two months after he was convicted and just 12 weeks after he was arrested. Mullen said Stinney got an unfair trial and it was impossible to determine the boy’s guilt or innocence. But fact of the matter is a 14-year-old boy was put to death 70 years ago by a racially corrupt system. And though he has been effectively exonerated, he is dead and the culture that is quick to condemn people of color is alive and appears to have not wavered in time.
When you think of the racial turmoil that has cast a pall over this country, it is possible to draw a straight line from the 70-year-old attitudes that condemned Stinney to the pain felt by black people today.
- Renisha McBride shot on the porch of white Detroit suburb homeowner Theodore Wafer while seeking help from that man.
- Trayvon Martin killed because he “looked suspicious.”
- Michael Dunn killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis over loud music. The judge in Jacksonville, FL who sentenced Dunn said that the case ‘exemplifies that our society seems to have lost its way.’
- Amadou Diallo was shot 19 times in a hail of 41 bullets while reaching for his wallet in the Bronx, NY.
- Michael Brown shot 6 times by a Ferguson, MO policeman Darren Wilson who was exonerated of any wrongdoing by a grand jury.
- NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo used an illegal chokehold killing Eric Garner. Pantaleo was not indicated even though the New York City medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide.
- And how about Sean Bell, shot by NYC police on his wedding day because he was suspected of being in a vehicle with a gun, which he was not.
These are just a handful of incidents where the culture of quick condemnation led to the death of a black person. In each case there appeared on the surface a callous disregard for the value of these lives.
The fight for rights and dignity is fought on an ever-moving battlefield. One can say that children are no longer executed in the judicial system. Yes, that’s a victory. But children are being executed outside of the system of justice. In some cases the perpetrators are charged with crimes but in most cases, they are not. Just think, if George Zimmerman had heeded instructions and stayed in his car as opposed to taking a gun out of his glove box to confront Trayvon Martin. The proper authorities might have determined that Martin was far from ‘suspicious’ and had a right to be in that apartment complex. If Theodore Wafer had at least tempered his impulse to condemn ‘black,’ Renisha McBride would still be alive. If those plain-clothes officers had fired a warning instead of 41 bullets at Amadou Diallo, they would have learned that he was afraid of them as potential muggers and was surrendering his wallet. Did Michael Brown have to be shot 6 times in Ferguson Missouri? Could at least one those five police officers who “took down” Eric Garner have been less savage and implored the others to release him while he was on the ground crying for air? The killing of Sean Bell in November of 2006 was textbook over-reaction where a team of plainclothes and undercover cops fired a hail of 50-plus bullets mortally wounding Bell and critically wounding two others. One of those bullets was found a quarter mile away lodged in the wall of the JFK rail train station. There was no gun and three of the five officers involved stood trial in Bell’s death but found to be ‘not guilty.’
There are so many incidents worthy of mention here, but I think as a reader, you get the point. The mentality that causes people to hit their door locks when a black person approaches or clutch their handbags or follow people of color when they are shopping is the same mentality that leads to these types of killings. If America is quick to condemn people of color, think about why that is. Job discrimination, housing discrimination, redlining, exploitative loans, jackboot policing, lack of legal representation and the worst of all, education disparities all lead to an America where racial guilt fuels despair and fear. Creating an entire class of people who have little hope opens the door to racial violence on both sides.
In my world, not every white person encountered is ready to rob or hurt me and I feel that in my heart. I also feel in my heart the same for every person of color I encounter. But I am not naïve. I know every white person I encounter does not feel as altruistic toward me. America needs a massive culture shift of tolerance, racial understanding and humanity. It took 70 years to see the light in the case of George Stinney, America does not have 70 years to correct the problems of today. These are forces that lead to the breakdown of our society and for the sake of the new generation of Americans, for God sake, let’s get out acts together!
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