Close to Death: Reflections on
Race and Capital Punishment in
Even before I began representing people on death row, I was opposed to capital punishment. The logic of gratuitously killing someone to demonstrate that killing is wrong eluded me. We don't rape those who rape, nor do we assault those who have assaulted. We disavow torturing those who have tortured. Yet we endorse killing those who have killed.
The death penalty has always seemed to me to be a punishment rooted in hopelessness and anger. My own moral and religious background caused me to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done. No one is just a crime. Punishment must be constrained by basic human rights. I also recognized before I became a lawyer that the criminal justice system was replete with arbitrary and unfair decision making, particularly for the poor and people of color.
In the almost two decades that I have been working as an attorney for condemned prisoners, 1 I have developed a far more direct and personal understanding of the degree to which this country's capital punishment system is riddled with flaws and tainted with injustice. 2 I have represented dozens of death row prisoners, most of whom were unconstitutionally convicted and unfairly sentenced to death. I've de-