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Paul D’Amato

The Democrats and the Death Penalty

(Winter 1999)

From International Socialist Review, Issue 6, Winter 1999.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DURING HIS 1992 election campaign, then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton stopped off in his home state to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a man so brain-damaged that on the night of his execution he set aside his dessert to eat after he returned to his cell. This was a clear signal to all who were paying attention that Clinton was going prove his toughness on crime by showing his solid support for the death penalty. Stephen Bright, head of the Southern Center for Human Rights, put it this way:

Even the Arkansas Supreme Court said that Rector’s was a case that should be considered for executive clemency, but there was a more important agenda. The Democrats were taking back the crime issue. Bill Clinton, in the midst of the controversy regarding Gennifer Flowers, was showing that he was tough and that not only did he believe in the Death Penalty, but he actually carried it out. [1]

Seven years later, political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal sits on Pennsylvania’s death row. Although Republican Governor Tom Ridge may sign Mumia’s death warrant, Mumia owes his murder conviction to a frameup orchestrated and defended by Philadelphia’s Democratic establishment. Democratic Mayor Ed Rendell, currently touted as a “rising star” in Democratic circles, helped orchestrate the police frame-up as the prosecutor in one of Mumia’s appeals.

Clinton’s enthusiastic support for the death penalty is the crown jewel of the Democratic Party’s “get-tough-on-crime” “ laws, including life imprisonment for a third felony offense (“three strikes and you’re out”), immediate deportation of immigrants with years’ old criminal records and tougher sentencing for youth offenders. Clinton-sponsored legislation greatly expanded the number of federal crimes punishable by death and accelerated the number of executions at the state level. In the six years that Clinton has been president, more than 315 people have been executed in the United States. In the entire 12 years of the conservative Republican presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, 185 people were put to death. In the last two years alone, record numbers have been executed. In 1997, 74 people were executed – the largest number of executions in a single year since 1956. Sixty-eight death-row prisoners were killed in 1998.

Clearly, on the the issue of the death penalty, the Democratic Party’s record is no better – and in many ways – is much worse than the Republican Party’s record. This makes it all the more surprising that many opponents of the death penalty look to Democratic politicians as allies in the struggle to abolish capital punishment. In meetings to plan the National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty held in Chicago in November 1998, conference organizer Larry Marshall, an anti-death penalty lawyer who helped to free falsely accused Illinois death-row prisoner Rolando Cruz in 1996, proposed that Attorney General Janet Reno be invited as a keynote speaker. That a committed opponent of the death penalty would consider the official in charge of carrying out the federal death penalty suggests confusion at least.

But the problem goes deeper. At first glance, it seems reasonable that death penalty abolitionists should work to elect politicians who oppose the death penalty. In the November 1998 governor’s race in Massachusetts, death penalty opponents faced a choice between Democratic Scott Harshbarger, the state’s attorney general and death penalty opponent, and incumbent Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci, who vowed to reinstate the state death penalty if elected. Clearly, death penalty abolitionists couldn’t support Cellucci. But should they have thrown their support behind Harshbarger? Should death penalty abolitionists campaign for Democrats as a means to abolish the death penalty? This article will answer “no,” for two reasons: first, anti-death penalty Democrats have done little to challenge a party which stands thoroughly in the pro-death penalty camp; second, building an activist movement in the streets – not electioneering – is the most effective way to get rid of the death penalty.

The Democratic record

The first challenge facing anyone who wants to vote for an anti-death penalty Democratic candidate is to actually find one. The party’s 1988 presidential candidate, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, opposed the death penalty and actually said so in a nationally televised debate with George Bush. But Bush used racist ads featuring Black convict and murderer Willie Horton to paint Dukakis as “soft on crime.” Bush chided Dukakis as a “card-carrying member of the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union].” Instead of taking on Bush’s racism and defending civil rights, Dukakis retreated. Alternating between staying on the defensive and trying to show that he was just as tough on crime as Bush was, the pathetic Dukakis lost in a landslide.

After the Dukakis debacle, Democratic Party leaders decided not to be outflanked on the crime issue again. “[A] whole generation of Democrats [concluded] that their political survival depends on being even more bloodthirsty than Republicans,” wrote Mike Davis. [2] “Democrats around the country are determined never again to permit Republican candidates to capture the symbols of law and order,” a Democratic consultant told the Manchester Guardian. “Politics is nuclear. Take no prisoners.” [3]

Democrats who had once opposed capital punishment flipped over to supporting executions. In his failed 1990 bid for the Georgia governorship, Atlanta Mayor and former Martin Luther King lieutenant Andrew Young announced he’d changed his position from opposition to support for the death penalty. “I think we’ve got to be serious and unemotional about the fight against crime, and I’m willing to consider the death penalty,” he said. Just a few years before, in 1987, Young lent his support to McCleskey v. Kemp, a U.S. Supreme Court case stemming from Georgia’s execution record that sought the abolition of the death penalty on grounds of discrimination against Black defendants. As Atlanta mayor, Young had proclaimed Death Penalty Awareness Day. But when it came time to woo conservative voters for his gubernatorial bid, Young was singing a different tune.

A man who had once defied segregation laws in the South, said “I obey the laws of the land and [the death penalty] is the law of the state of Georgia, and it certainly isn’t likely to change in my term as governor.” [4] A few months later, he was even more rabid: “The state has got to have the right to put mad dogs to death.” [5]

By the time Bill Clinton took office, the national Democratic Party adopted hard-line “law-and-order” positions. The party’s 1996 platform includes these blood-curdling planks on the question of crime and the death penalty:

Tough punishment. We believe that people who break the law should be punished, and people who commit violent crimes should be punished severely. President Clinton made three-strikes-you’re-out the law of the land, to ensure that the most dangerous criminals go to jail for life, with no chance of parole. We established the death penalty for nearly 60 violent crimes, including murder of a law enforcement officer, and we signed a law to limit appeals. The Democratic Party is a party of inclusion, and we respect the conscience of all Americans on this issue.

We provided almost $8 billion in new funding to help states build new prison cells so violent offenders serve their full sentences. We call on the states to meet the President’s challenge and guarantee that serious violent criminals serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. The American people deserve a criminal justice system in which criminals are caught, the guilty are convicted, and the convicted serve their time ...

At the same time, when young people cross the line, they must be punished. When young people commit serious violent crimes, they should be prosecuted like adults ...

Battling illegal drugs. We must keep drugs off our streets and out of our schools. President Clinton and the Democratic Party have waged an aggressive war on drugs. The Crime Bill established the death penalty for drug kingpins.

Clinton’s 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill expanded the application of the federal death penalty, including crimes not resulting in death, like running a large-scale drug enterprise. Clinton remarked enthusiastically during his re-election campaign: “My 1994 crime bill expanded the death penalty for drug kingpins, murderers of federal law enforcement officers, and nearly 60 additional categories of violent felons.”

In 1996, Democrats outdid themselves in passing Clinton’s Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. This law limits habeas corpus appeals for death-row inmates to one within a year after conviction. It sets up arbitrary time limits for filing appeals, and it forces the federal Courts to essentially rubber stamp the state courts’ decisions. Since inmates often cannot find counsel or take years to do so, the law means that many death-row inmates will not be able to find help for their appeals in time. Moreover, inmates often aren’t able to uncover evidence that might prove a wrongful conviction or their innocence within a year.

The tougher laws were not Republican proposals that Democrats couldn’t muster the votes to defeat. They were showcase Democratic laws. House Democrats voted 105 to 86 in support of the 1996 antiterrorism bill, and the the Senate passed the antiterrorism bill by 91–8. Senate Democrats voted 44 to 1 in support of Clinton’s 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill. In the House, 154 Democrats voted for the bill, and only 26 voted against. Among those who voted for the crime bill were liberals like former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun and Illinois Congressman (and former Black Panther) Bobby Rush. As the congressional votes show, many Democrats support the death penalty. What’s more, many who say they “personally” “ oppose the death penalty nevertheless voted for bills that increased its use in the United States.

In California, the most populous state and one of the most pro-Democratic in the nation, leading politicians present a clean-sweep in favor of capital punishment. Senator Dianne Feinstein ran in the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primaries on the slogan “the only candidate who is pro-choice and pro-death penalty.” Feinstein and Senator Barbara Boxer (considered one of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate) voted for limiting death-row prisoners right to federal appeals in 1996. Elected in 1998, Governor Gray Davis ran a militantly pro-cop, pro-death penalty campaign. “I think Singapore is a good starting point in terms of law and order,” Davis said, praising a country which mandates public beatings for minor criminal offenses. “I think there ought to be clear rules. You can’t punish people enough as far as I’m concerned.” Davis gained the backing of law enforcement organizations in the state. Wrote the October 5, 1998 San Francisco Chronicle:

By supporting the death penalty and talking tough on crime, Davis has forced [his Republican opponent Dan] Lungren to abandon his game plan and spend more effort trying to distance himself from Davis.

None of this can be dismissed simply as election-year posturing. The Democrats’ “tough-on-crime” “ rhetoric has real consequences. The federal death row is even more racially skewed than death rows on the state level, where 40 percent of prisoners are Black. Since 1994, 13 people have been sentenced to death under the 1994 guidelines. Ten of them have been Black (almost 77 percent), two are white and the other Asian.

The “drug kingpin” law has been used go after small-time Black street dealers, not wealthy big-time traffickers. According to a report by the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, Racial Disparities in Federal Death Penalty Prosecutions, 1984–1994, “in a number of cases, the U.S. Attorneys have sought the death penalty against young inner-city drug gang members and relatively small-time drug traffickers. In other cases, the death penalty was returned against those directly involved in a murder, while the bosses who ordered the killings were given lesser sentences.” And as a result of the “anti-terrorism” law, not only will more innocent and wrongfully convicted people will be executed, but people will simply be executed faster.

The case of Jesse Jackson

There are individual Democratic Party politicians who oppose the death penalty, the most prominent of whom is the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Jackson has even written a book, Legal Lynching, in which he lays out his opposition to the death penalty. But his position – and his practice – on the question reveals most clearly the limitations of Democratic Party liberals.

Jackson’s book lays out a number of excellent arguments against capital punishment that are familiar to death penalty opponents – it is racist, punishes only the poor and vulnerable, and is cruel and inhuman. Yet Jackson goes out of his way to make clear that he is as tough on crime, if not more so, than the average Republican:

In some states, politicians who favor the death penalty resist stiffer sentences that eliminate parole because they fear that with real alternatives the people will see no more need for the death penalty. Apparently, they would rather have criminals get out of jail sooner than give up the death penalty as a cheap symbol for being tough on crime. [6]

The rest of the chapter makes a case in favor of life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty, even praising Alabama for its program of life without the possibility of parole. Jackson points out that “lifers” make better, more docile inmates. “They become institutionalized over a period of time, adopting the prison structure as home, since they have no alternative. To fight the system for 25 or more years is useless.” [7]

Still, though Jackson may hold the most conservative abolitionist position possible on the death penalty, at least he can be counted on to be a crusader against it. Or can he? The truth is that Jackson is an operative in a party that supports the death penalty. When push comes to shove, he backs his party, and that means he backs pro-death penalty Democratic candidates against their Republican rivals. Jackson, for example, campaigned in California for Gray Davis. As Attorney General, Davis helped send death-row inmate Tommy Thompson to his death. Seven former California prosecutors – all of them supporters of the death penalty – issued a friend of the court brief in support of Thompson’s possible innocence. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court overturned the appeals court decision, and Tommy Thompson was executed last July.

Jackson attended a governor’s race debate last October to show his support for Davis. When confronted by 100 protesters who asked Jackson how he could support a pro-death penalty candidate, he responded, “Well, I can’t support [his Republican opponent] Lungren. What else can I do?” [8] It is always so. Those Democrats, like Jesse Jackson, who oppose the death penalty, will always close ranks with their fellow pro-death penalty Democrats at election time and help them to victory. The line of argument is always “lesser evilism” – Democrats must be supported in order to keep the “greater evil” Republicans out of office.

Liberals have gotten so used to apologizing for Clinton as a “lesser evil” to the Republicans that they hardly speak out on matters of principle anymore. As Clinton faced impeachment in the House of Representatives in December 1998, liberals in Hollywood and academia organized rallies in his defense. In a December 23 Wall Street Journal op-ed article, Patrick Caddell and Marc Cooper compared the liberal defense of Clinton with their silence on Clinton’s murder of Ricky Ray Rector:

Where were the liberals? No Hollywood celebrities – no Rob Reiner, no Barbra Streisand – lobbied to spare Rector’s life. There were no NYU emergency speak-outs organized by Sean Wilentz and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. on Rector’s behalf. No panels of Ivy League law professors with Alan Dershowitz screaming for due process. Rep. Maxine Waters was too wrapped up co-chairing Mr. Clinton’s California campaign to invoke her – and Rector’s – “slave ancestors” in a cry for justice as she would six years later on the House floor on behalf of her president.

Liberal Democrats in action (inaction)?: the case of Massachusetts

In 1997, the death penalty came within one state legislature vote of being reinstated in Massachusetts. Right wingers used a particularly grisly murder of a 9-year-old to whip up support for the death penalty, and it almost worked. Only public pressure – and not any action by prominent Massachusetts Democrats – stopped the reinstatement of capital punishment.

Because Massachusetts in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, Democratic legislators would determine whether the state would bring back the death penalty. In 1997, the Massachusetts House held 130 Democrats in the House and only 30 Republicans. The Senate held 31 Democrats to seven Republicans. The bill reinstating the death penalty lost by one vote. Peabody representative John Slattery, considered previously a staunch pro-death penalty supporter, citing his fear that an innocent person could be executed, changed his vote from “yea” to “nea.” In the final vote tallies, Democratic senators voted for the death penalty by 16 to 15, and 54 of the 130 House Democrats voted for it.

Slattery did not attribute his change of heart to debates among fellow Democrats. On the contrary, House Speaker Thomas Finneran, a capital punishment opponent, refused to lobby other Democrats. Finneran left the decision on the death penalty to the “personal conscience” of each Democratic legislator. But Finneran’s “personal conscience” was found to be pretty weak leading up to the vote. “I’ve been wrestling with myself over the last several days,” he said just days before the vote, “When I contemplate the horror of [the recent murders] I reflect upon the weaknesses of my position.” [9]

During the Senate debate on the death penalty, leading Democrats who were known for their opposition to the death penalty, like Scott Harshbarger, laid low. According to the Boston Globe:

[W]hen the Senate debated the issue Tuesday, three leading Democrats, all capital punishment foes and all candidates for higher office, kept a low profile. Although he insists the death penalty is bad criminal justice policy, Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, who as immediate past president of the National Association of Attorneys General could bring expertise to the issue, was nowhere to be seen and made no calls to senators. Also absent was another Democrat widely respected in the Senate, Patricia McGovern, the former chairwoman of that body’s Ways and Means Committee. She is running for governor. In the Senate, Lois Pines, a Newton Democrat and a candidate for attorney general ... didn’t speak once during the long debate over reinstating the death penalty ... “it’s a fait accompli,” Pines said of the vote.

The death penalty was narrowly defeated at the last minute for two reasons. First, the coincidence of the death penalty debate with the Cambridge, Massachusetts “British nanny” court case heightened public awareness to the likelihood of innocent people being convicted of murder. In the case, a judge freed a young British au pair after throwing out her murder conviction in the death of a toddler in her care. Secondly, a well-publicized press conference and demonstrations organized by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty finally created some open, public momentum against the right, which in turn influenced a pro-death penalty politician to change his vote.

Accepting the right’s logic

Most Democratic politicians who oppose the death penalty couple their abolitionism with support for all sorts of “law-and-order” policies to prove that they are not “soft on crime.” Jackson’s proposals for replacing capital punishment with a life sentence without parole follow this logic. Liberal abolitionists try to separate the issue of capital punishment from other issues of criminal justice, or from social questions like racism and class bias. But capital punishment is just the most extreme and barbaric end of the spectrum of criminal justice. From the 1994 crime bill to the 1996 Antiterrorism bill, the whole direction of crime legislation has been toward tougher sentencing. Three strikes laws, mandatory drug sentencing for possession and small-time dealing, all the way to life without the possibility of parole and limited habeas corpus – all of these are part of the same “get tough” political climate that politicians have been engaged in for years now.

The Jackson position accepts the terrain created by the pro-death advocates. It seems to say: “We’ll give you life without the possibility of parole and victim restitution if you give us the abolition of the death penalty.” Life without parole, in this line of argument, is better than death. But you cannot eliminate the greater evil by supporting a lesser-evil. Life without parole and the death penalty are both part of the same vicious shift rightward on “crime.” Acceptance of the (arguably) lesser-evil means accepting the logic of the right, and therefore does nothing at all to stop it. On the contrary, it encourages the rightward drift.

Unfortunately, some liberal abolitionists, trying to build a “credible” argument against the death penalty, have adopted similar positions. American University Justice Professor Robert Johnson, a self-proclaimed abolitionist, wrote in 1990 an Open Letter to Governors of States with the Death Penalty, “ which read, in part:

A life sentence is a humane alternative to the death penalty ... A life sentence is, in fact, a “civil” death penalty ... True, these prisoners can forge a life of sorts behind bars, but one organized on existential lines and etched in suffering ... The prison is their cemetery, a six-by-nine-foot cell their tomb.” [10]

This is an appeal against the death penalty!

Johnson might as well also call for systematic torture, permanent solitary confinement, etc. ... anything to prove that abolitionism has absolutely nothing to do with a sense of humanity or with any other social question. Johnson’s proposal accepts the logic that has brought us more executions in the first place. It accepts the warehousing of poor Blacks, whites and Latinos in overcrowded prisons where they are subject to humiliating, brutal treatment, but beseeches the state not to kill any of them.

The socialist Hal Draper put it well as far back as 1968 in an article entitled Who Will Be the Lesser Evil in 1968?

[Y]ou can’t fight the victory of the rightmost forces by sacrificing your own independent strength to support elements just the next step away from them.

This latter pattern is what has been going on in this country for the last two decades. Every time the liberal-labor left has made noises about its dissatisfaction with what Washington was trickling through, all the Democrats had to do was bring out the bogy of the Republican right. The Lib-Labs would then swoon, crying “The fascists are coming!” and vote for the Lesser Evil. In these last two decades, the Democrats have learned well that they have the lib-lab vote in their back pocket, and that therefore the forces to be appeased are those forces to the right. The lib-labs were kept happy enough if Hubert Humphrey showed at a banquet to make his liberal speeches; or, before that, the Kennedy myth which bemused them even while the first leader on this planet poised his finger over the nuclear-war button and said “Or Else!” With the lib-lab votes in a pocket, politics in this country had to move steadily right-right-right – until even a Lyndon Johnson could look like a Lesser Evil. This is essentially why – even when there really is a lesser evil – making the Lesser Evil choice undercuts the possibility of really fighting the right. [11]

In other words, support for the “lesser evil” “ in the shape of the Democratic Party actually undermines the fight against the right. It helps to diffuse and dampen the struggle for reforms, by bringing activists in tow behind the party. That doesn’t mean that liberals won’t shift in a more leftward direction. But they do so in response to the overall political climate, and the overall political climate is shaped what happens outside Congress and state legislatures.

The lessons of the anti-Vietnam War movement, the civil rights movement and the fight in the 1930s for workers’ right to form industrial unions are all the same in one respect. Without mass struggle – in the form of demonstrations, strikes, boycotts and sit-ins – the prospects for meaningful reforms are slight. Reliance on the Democratic Party, on the other hand, diffuses these struggles. Virtually all the major liberal organizations have raised barely a peep of protest in response to Clinton’s gutting of welfare provisions, his attack on immigrants, his opposition to gay marriage and gay rights in the military and his vigorous support for the death penalty. If these policies had been implemented by Republicans, there would have been major protests in the capital involving tens of thousands of people.


The Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for four years beginning in 1972. Justices based their decision on the racist and arbitrary nature of the death penalty. They did so not because they were radicals. Their decision came on the heels of a long period of radicalism – movements and struggles that threw the whole social fabric into crisis. In other words, the political climate had been shifted by the civil rights and Black Power movements, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the women’s movement and so on, and these in turn had an impact on ordinary peoples’ views on a wide range of issues, including the unfairness of the criminal justice system.

Yet many abolitionists think that somehow adapting to the conservative climate created in the 1980s – by emphasizing the cost of executions, that there are “better” ways to be tough on crime, by focusing narrowly on executions without connecting the death penalty with the entire class-based and racist structure of the judicial system and of the police, and by quietly lobbying our “friends” in office – will somehow be effective in getting rid of capital punishment. Eugene Wagner, a Michigan attorney who has served on the board of the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty (NCADP) argues that abolitionists shouldn’t support “illegal” civil disobedience protests. This might drive away important affiliates, expose the organization to criminal proceedings, and give “aid and comfort to many of our opponents in spreading the false and pernicious idea that abolition of the death penalty is based on radical left-wing principles.” [12]

Traditional abolitionist organizations, like the NCADP and Amnesty International, remain miles away from any idea that abolishing the death penalty is a struggle that must be taken to the streets, or that it is a class issue, part of a general attack on the poor and working class. On the contrary, many abolitionist lawyers believe that demonstrations actually hurt a prisoner’s chance of finding justice: “You’ll anger the prosecutor or judge.” The ultimate logic of this argument is that the best way to fight for reforms is not to fight at all – you’ll anger those in power and there will be a backlash. But the backlash comes when the right is strong and opposition is weak. The non-strategy of “wait for the Democrat” or the lesser-evil “the Democrat is at least one shade better than the Republican” always strengthens the right.

For years, politicians have claimed that the “public” demands the death penalty in the United States. Traditional abolitionists have accepted this, reinforcing their own passive and defensive activity. Yet the reality is very different. If anything, recent polls and events show that support for the death penalty – always a mile wide and an inch thick to begin with – is beginning to shift. In Texas, the state where about half of all executions take place, support for the death penalty dropped 18 points, from 86 percent to 68 percent, after the 1998 execution of Karla Faye Tucker. In New York, a state that only recently reinstated the death penalty, a recent poll indicated that only 38 percent support the death penalty. A 1997 Time magazine poll showed that 52 percent of Americans do not believe the death penalty is a deterrent, 60 percent do not believe vengeance is a legitimate reason for putting people to death, and a Newsweek poll in the same year indicated that 49 percent believe that Blacks are more likely than whites to receive the death penalty for the same crime. Moreover, the public attention the press gave the the November Chicago conference featuring many of the 75 men and women who have been found innocent and released from death row in the last few decades is driving home to people the fact that innocent and wrongly convicted people are being warehoused and executed.

The conditions, therefore, are ripe for building a fightback against the death penalty. In the weeks and months to come, activists need to gear up for what will be one of the most important abolitionist battles – the fight to save death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. We have the potential to build a big movement that draws out large numbers of new activists who want to see an end to capital punishment. The pressure to back the Democratic Party, even though it has been the party of death, will increase, especially as more liberal Democrats run to get in front of a movement. But in the course of struggle, activists will also learn a valuable lesson – that the historical role of the Democratic Party has been to “mop up” social discontent and channel it into votes for its own candidates.

The Democrats’ sorry record on the death penalty predates Bill Clinton and Andrew Young. The administration of Democratic President Harry Truman initiated the prosecution that resulted in the 1953 executions of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg as “atomic spies.” Moreover, the party’s Southern wing was historically the party of lynchers and later the party of the Southern “death belt.”

Kathy Kelly, co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, an organization that opposes the blockade on Iraq, has referred recently to Iraq as a “death row for infants.” “The blockade is now responsible for taking well over 700,000 Iraqi children’s lives. Last December, when Clinton was sending over 400 cruise missiles into Iraq, nearly every leading Democrat, including Jesse Jackson, backed the attack. But you cannot speak against the death penalty at home and be for it abroad. The individual Democratic politicians who oppose the death penalty are only a small tail of a very large and powerful pro-capital punishment dog.

The climate around the death penalty is shifting, and will shift further, not on the basis of quiet lobbying and good legal work, nor on the basis of mobilizing public support for Democratic candidates who claim to be against the death penalty. Abolition will come on the basis of mass activity that exposes and embarrasses politicians of both parties – for condemning and executing minors, for condemning and executing the mentally retarded and unstable, for condemning and executing the poor and the Black, while wealthy criminals go free.

* * *


1. From The Politics of Crime and the Death Penalty: not “soft on crime,” “but hard on the Bill of Rights”, St. Louis Law Journal, Volume 39.

2. Quoted in Phil Gasper, Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Politics of Crime in the United States, International Socialism Journal 66 (Spring 1995), p. 67.

3. Ibid., p. 71.

4. Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 11, 1989.

5. U.S. News and World Report, March 26, 1990, p. 25.

6. Rev. Jesse Jackson, Legal Lynching: Racism, Injustice and the Death Penalty (Marlowe & Company, New York, 1996), p. 43.

7. Jackson, Legal Lynching, p. 52.

8. Socialist Worker, November 13, 1998.

9. Boston Herald, October 23, 1997.

10. Herbert Haines, Against Capital Punishment: the Anti-Death Penalty Movement in America, 1972–1994 (Oxford, New York 1996), p. 137.

11. From The New Left of the Sixties, ed. Michael Friedman (Independent Socialist Press, 1972), p. 58.

12. Haines, p. 133.

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