White Man’s Justice Is Black People’s Grief: A Black History Month Truth

By Kevin Cooper / Original to ScheerPost

“It’s not whether you win or lose that counts, but how you play the game that matters.” That’s what my people are often told. But we are not told that this so-called game is rigged, and it’s rigged against us even before we are born. 

This “game” is life in the divided states of America. This is especially true in the system of criminal justice, a system that has been rigged against Black people since its  inception. There Is no better example than this country’s morbid use and fascination with the cold-blooded and premeditated imposition of the death penalty against poor people and its disproportionate use on Black people. 

Black history has a companion that has walked hand in hand and side by side throughout the tortured history of Black people in America. This companion is what white Americans have used nonstop against us in this land from 1619 to 2024. This companion — capital punishment — has never left us. Never. Why? Because this is a very real part of white man’s justice, and history has proven that whenever there is white man’s justice, there is Black people’s grief — and death. 

I may not know all the answers to many questions as to why this is, beside the obvious ones such as racism and classism. But I would like an answer to this question if anyone can give it to me: Has there ever been a period of time in the history of this country when human beings who were first Africans, then niggers, then colored, then contraband, then Negroes, then African Americans, then Black have not lived under the constant threat of death in the U.S., whether it be from legal homicide as in the death penalty or being murdered by the police, or being  lynched, or being murdered just because of the color of our skin, which happens in this country on a regular basis?

Whether by rope, beatings, shootings, electric chair, gas chamber, lethal injection or whatever the case may be, these legal and illegal murders in this country have become so commonplace that few people even know when they happen or pay any attention to them. This is especially true in ex-slave states where they use the battle cry of state’s rights to continue this historic and horrific crime against humanity on its poor and minority peoples. Back in the day when they were “uncivilized,” they used to lynch us from trees and bridges, burn us alive, whip us to death and all types of sick things in the name of white man’s justice. 

Then they became “civilized.” They started not only to hang us indoors instead of outside like in their uncivilized days, they started to strap people down to chairs and shoot bullets into their bodies, unlike before when they stood them up to shoot bullets into their bodies. Then they strapped people into chairs using electricity to kill them, then strapped people down to force poisonous gas into the lungs, and strapped others down to gurneys to inject torturous lethal drugs into their veins, all while being a civilized people and doing it in the name of white man’s justice. 

They legally kill people to get some kind of justice, even when they know that the executed person will be tortured by excruciating pain. History has shown pre-arrest executions by police who kill us by chokehold or a knee on our neck until we cannot breathe, and we die. 

On February 10, 2004 at one minute after midnight, the state of California had planned to murder me legally by what was said to be the most humane way to execute a human being, which is a oxymoron because there is no such thing as a humane way to commit homicide and that is what executions are — homicides.This was to be done to me during Black History Month by white people who wanted their sick version of justice or revenge or retribution. for a crime I did not commit.

We, as a civilized people, must stop doing uncivilized things. We all must join a growing number of death penalty abolitionists asking why a supposed humane and civilized society, as we claim to be, continues to impose an inhumane legalized method of torturous homicide to execute people — too many of whom are innocent — who could remain locked up for the rest of their lives? 

For all people of color who are part of this country — from the people of different Indigenous nations, to the descendants of Africa, to Latinos, some of whose land  in California and Texas was taken by the U.S., to Asians and  others who immigrated to this country, the death penalty is a very real part of their and our experience and existence throughout our collective histories. We demand that it stop. 

Certain death penalty supporters, including politicians, say that the death penalty is a deterrent. We as Black people know this is used as an excuse to keep murdering us, and to cover up the truth on what is a racist policy. This must be viewed not just through the lens of today, but through the lens of time, wherein untold numbers of poor and Black people lost their lives due to white man’s justice. 

The late author and activist Ida B. Wells stated that Black people have been more sinned against, than sinning. The sinned against had to do with white men murdering Black people during her time walking this Earth. During her lifetime, and as a founder of the NAACP, no matter what she did and how hard she tried, she could not get a anti-lynching bill passed into law, even with the backing of other influential people, both Black and white. 

In fact, it wasn’t until President Biden finally signed into law an anti-lynching bill named after 14-year-old Emmett Till, who suffered white man’s justice by being abducted, tortured and lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store. President Biden signed this bill into law in 2022; it took over a century to do this. Ida B. Wells and others tried to get it signed into law in the early 1900s.

To many of us, especially those who are still oppressed and feel the effects of this oppression no matter where we are, Dred Scott hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s like we honestly have no rights that white men are bound to respect, especially those certain white men within the government and the criminal justice system. 

For those of you who do not want to believe this or even acknowledge it, you must understand that racism is alive and well within this country, and damn near all of its institutions, including the criminal justice system. 

We are at a crossroads here in California and America as a whole. We stand up and fight for human rights for some who are deemed to be worthy or acceptable, while ignoring the human rights of others because they, and I am one of them, are deemed unworthy and unacceptable. This double standard, this hypocrisy, must come to an end. All life is worthy, all life is acceptable, even those who have been sentenced to death. Some, like me, are in fact innocent of the murders for which we were convicted. 

With all the deception that is ongoing in the institutions that run and control this country, how can anyone actually have faith and confidence in the capital punishment system that hasn’t really changed since it first started centuries ago? The same people who do  the executing, for the most part the white man, and the same people who always have been the executed — Black and other minority people — are still in those roles. When are Americans as a whole going to wake up and see that all of our professed  humanity is at stake in this? 

If it’s true that the state of California leads, and the rest of the country follows, then this state needs to put aside the moratorium on executions and follow other states in unequivocally ending this system of manmade death — and do it soon.