The carrying out of a sentence of death imposed by either a court or a jury following a conviction for a capital offense.
Since 1976 when the U.S. Supreme Court effectively reinstated the death penalty after a 10-year moratorium, all 1537 executions carried out since then have been for the crime of murder.
The American death penalty is inextricably woven, as it has always been, in the failed religious concept that murder can only be revenged through murder. The commandment that “thy shall not kill” inevitably introduced the revenge notion of an “eye for an eye.”
That is pretty much how the American death penalty works. The State commands that “thy shall not kill” while the murder victim’s family and friends demand “eye” of revenge.
On October 21, 2021, Willie B. Smith became the 1537th person put to death in this country since 1976. He was an African-American man put to death for the 1991 murder of a white woman in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Equal Justice Initiative informs that more death sentences are imposed per capita in Alabama than in any other state. The state has executed 68 men and 1 woman since 1976. Thirty-one of those men were black. African-Americans make up 27 percent of Alabama’s population yet comprise nearly half of the state’s executions.
The EJI also reports that one-third of the death sentences imposed in Alabama came out of three counties: Etowah, Houston, and Mobile—all of which are predominantly white counties.
Gov. Kay Ivey, a white female, released a statement after Smith’s execution that, in part, read: “The carrying out of Mr. Smith’s sentence sends the message that the state of Alabama will not tolerate these murderous acts.”
There’s a problem inherent in Gov. Ivey’s statement.
The Death Penalty Information Center reports that only 21 white man have executed in this country since 1976 for killing black victims while 295 black men have been executed for killing white victims. In other words, the DPIC reports that 75 percent of executions in this country involved white victims while only 15 percent involved black victims.
Against the backdrop of these numbers, what can be reasonably read into Gov. Ivey’s statement is this: Alabama “will not tolerate” black people killing white people, especially black men killing white women.
Numbers don’t like.
In 1989, University of Florida sociologist Michael Radelet examined roughly 16,000 executions in America—of which only 30 involved the executions of white people killing black people.
And Alabama does not, as a rule, execute black people for killing black people.
This is evidenced by the fact that white male Alabamians have lynched 347 people—299 of whom were black. None of the black men lynched by these white male Alabamians were lynched for crimes against other black people. Those 299 black men were murdered because they were either involved or suspected of being involved in crimes against white people.
That is the Confederate execution mentality. Roughly 3 out of every four of the 1537 executions carried out in this country since 1976 have been carried in the former southern Confederate states.
It did not matter to the proud Confederate state of Alabama that Willie B. Smith was intellectually disabled with an IQ range of 70-75—a disability previously called “borderline mentally retarded.” All that mattered to Alabama was that Willie B. Smith, a black man, killed a white woman. For that, he had to die—the State wanted it and the victim’s family demanded it.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall made this clear in a post-execution statement:
“The family of Sharma Johnson has had to wait 29 years, 11 months, and 25 days to see the sentence of Sharma’s murderer be carried out. Finally, the cruel and unusual punishment that has been inflicted upon them—a decades long denial of justice—has come to an end. I ask the people of Alabama to join me in praying for Sharma’s family and friends, that they might now be able to find peace and closure.”
Revenge never brings “peace and closure.” It accomplishes one thing and one thing only: the perpetuation of violence, murder upon murder.
That’s what really happened to Willie B. Smith.