This past June the state of Georgia executed Marion “Murdock” Wilson, Jr. He became the 1500th person put to death in the United States since Gary Gilmore’s January 17, 1977 execution—an execution he requested—that effectively reinstated the death penalty following a ten-year moratorium on executions throughout the nation.
America has always had a special, although somewhat peculiar, affection for the death penalty.
Between the nation’s Declaration of Independence in 1776 and over the next 23 years through 1799, some 618 persons were executed in this country. The death penalty affection intensified in the 1800s as the nation executed 5,381 persons, a significant proportional increase from the previous two-plus decades. By the 1900s America was in a full-blown love affair with the death penalty, marching 7,980 persons into death houses between 1900 and 1967.
The last person put to death in this country before the so-called “Furman Moratorium” was Louis Jose Monge who was put to death in Colorado’s gas chamber on June 2, 1967.
The decade between Monge’s execution and Gilmore’s execution was the only decade in American history when the nation did not execute someone.
Altogether, since 1776 to the present day, America has executed roughly 15,439 people.
Those executions include 365 women, 575 teenagers (13-19), and three 12-year-olds. The youngest person executed in modern times was George Junius Stinney, Jr., a 14-year-old African-American youth who was convicted and executed in South Carolina’s electric chair by white men—the police who arrested him, the prosecutor who prosecuted him, the jury that rendered the verdict against him, the judge who preside over his trial, and all the men who participated in strapping him into the electric chair.
With the exception of the 1500 persons executed since 1977, the overwhelming majority of all death penalty convictions since the nation’s founding were rendered by all-white, male juries.
Although the Supreme Court extended the right to serve on juries to African Americans in 1880, the right was a hollow as white prosecutors in all states created statutory and procedural mechanisms to keep African-Americans off juries in criminal cases.
And while the first female jury was seated in Los Angeles in 1911, women did not gain the legal right to jury duty until 1975 through a Supreme Court decision.
Thus, in a nutshell, the American love affair with the death penalty is rooted in the white man’s desire, and need, to kill. White men killed Native Americans in order to steal their Eastern land; enslaved and killed Africans to work their Southern land; killed Chinese to make them build railroads to travel across their Western land; and robbed and killed Mexicans to gain more Southwestern land for America.
White men have pretty much killed anyone or anything that stood in their way of obtaining whatever they wanted, regardless of the human suffering and costs it inflicted upon non-whites.
That’s why white men have always held that peculiar affection for the death penalty.
Before the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, some 57 percent of all the people executed in this country were non-whites—African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native-Americans—who have always represented a narrow minority of the American population.
White men in America—those in the halls of legislatures and those sitting on court benches—have historically justified their love for state-sponsored killing on three fundamental premises: One, the death penalty deterred killings and other violent crimes; two, the killing of an offender exacted a just punishment for their offense; and, third, the Old Testament, God’s law book, repeatedly blessed the death penalty “in the name of God.”
Whether any of these premises are effective is the subject of continuing debate—one that has roiled the soul of the nation since roughly 1907 when the first states began to outlaw the death penalty.
Ruben Gutierrez is scheduled to die on July 31, 2019 in the Texas death chamber at Huntsville. He will be the 11th person executed in 2019.
Besides Gutierrez, there are at this time 23 more persons scheduled to be executed in 2019 in this country.
The heartbeat of injustice goes on.