carolina in my mind

Last week I was on the phone with a Diary reader who had never noticed the menu bar just below the header on the main page. She’d just complained that there was no place that introduced visitors to my background, and I asked her if she’d ever clicked on “about” in the more than two years that she’d been following the blog.

“About? Where’s that?” she asked.

“Right under the picture of the mountains at the top,” I said. “A link to The Redemption Project is there, too.”

“I just clicked, but my computer is slow,” she said. We waited.

“Oh,” she said a little sheepishly.

This page was exactly what she’d complained didn’t exist. “I can’t believe I missed this,” she said.

“Have you ever been to the Redemption Project website?” I asked.

“No,” she said a little defensively. “I’m going there now.” We waited. There was a slight gasp on the other end of the line. This particular lady doesn’t like it when things get past her, and this was a biggie. I could tell she was a little embarrassed. Then she recovered with a jab: “No Blacks,” she accused.

“Yeah, that’s so,” I admitted. “All things in due time. We’re a new organization. The first Black kid just hasn’t come along yet.”

It’s not like we have race quotas or anything like that. We focus on parricides, and juvenile parricides are extremely rare, only about 30 a year. I’m not aware of a specific recent case in which a Black child has killed a parent, though I will allow that such a case may be out there that we haven’t heard about. (It wouldn’t be the first time a “black-on-black crime” has failed to show up on the mainstream media’s radar.)

The cases we’re supposed to be working on generally have a way of finding us. Our plate is full. Looking for a Black kid to serve just because he’s Black would be racist. Addressing race-based injustice is not a part of our mission.

Yet racial disparities in the criminal justice system are the elephant in the room that must be acknowledged here. Unlike politicians at all levels of government, the numbers don’t lie.

Whereas in 2005 the overall US incarceration rate was 738 per 100,000 population, for Blacks it was 4,848. If you look at the incarceration rates for males aged 25-29 by race, you can see the elephant even more clearly. In 2006 the incarceration rate for Whites was 1,685 per 100,000; for Hispanics it was 3,912; for Blacks it was 11,695 per 100,000.

Blacks account for just over 40% of the total prison and jail population, while at the same time census data shows that Blacks were only 13.6% of the US population. In absolute numbers, more than 846,000 Black men were incarcerated in 2008—and this does not include Black juveniles incarcerated in juvenile detention centers.

Apologists for America’s suppression of African Americans through mass incarceration claim that these numbers reflect a higher incidence of crimes among Blacks, but research has shown that higher crime rates among Blacks account for only 60% of the disparity. The remaining 40% results from racial prejudice that contaminates the law enforcement and judicial systems.

National surveys conducted by the Department of Justice find disparate law enforcement practices contribute to this higher incarceration rate. For example, while Black drivers may be stopped by police at similar rates to Whites, they are three times as likely to be subject to a search after being stopped. Disparate police practices related to the “war on drugs” have been well documented in many jurisdictions, and in combination with sentencing policies, they are the most significant contributor to disproportionate rates of incarceration.

If a Black male drops out of high school he has a 32.4% chance of going to prison, while his White and Hispanic counterparts have a 6.7% and 6% chance respectively. The US Department of Justice projects that if current trends continue, one of every three Black males born today will go to prison in his lifetime.

According to Michelle Alexander, Ohio State University law professor, civil rights activist, and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, there are more Black men in prison and jail, and on probation and parole, than there were slaves before the start of the Civil War.

In her book, Alexander writes that despite today’s belief in “colorblindness,” our criminal justice system effectively bars Black men from citizenship, treating them as a separate caste.

“Denying African Americans citizenship was deemed essential to the formation of the original union,” she wrote. “Hundreds of years later, America is still not an egalitarian democracy. The arguments and rationalizations that have been trotted out in support of racial exclusion and discrimination in its various forms have changed and evolved, but the outcome has remained largely the same.”

Although crime rates have dipped in recent years, the number of Black men who are incarcerated has surged, mainly due to a single law enforcement policy, Alexander contends. “Most of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color,” she said.

There’s also a large disparity between races when it comes to sentencing convicts to Death Row. Looking just at the federal death penalty data released by the Department of Justice between 1995 and 2000, 682 defendants were charged with death-eligible crimes. Out of those 682 defendants, the defendant was Black in 48% of the cases, Hispanic in 29% of the cases, and White in only 20% of the cases.

It has always been this way, especially in the American South.

The youngest person ever executed in the US in the 20th century was an innocent 14-year-old Black boy named George J. Stinney, Jr., who was electrocuted in 1944 by the state of South Carolina. After a 2-hour trial conducted in a lynch-mob atmosphere in Clarendon County SC, in just 10 minutes Stinney was found guilty of the murder of two young White girls, by an all-White jury solely on the basis of a false confession that police had coerced from the boy, in a locked room with no witnesses, with inducements of ice cream.

Stinney’s court appointed lawyer was 31-year-old Charles Nelson Plowden, a tax commissioner unfamiliar with criminal law, who was preparing for a run at the state House that year. “His dilemma was how to provide enough defense so that he could not be accused of incompetence, but not be so passionate that he would anger the local whites who may one day vote for him,” wrote Mark Jones, author of South Carolina Killers: Crimes of Passion.

Plowden did not cross-examine any of the prosecution’s witnesses, nor did he call any witnesses for the defense. His entire argument was that Stinney was too young to be held responsible for the crimes, even though South Carolina law at the time regarded anyone over the age of 14 as an adult. When asked about appeals, Plowden replied that there would be no appeal, as the Stinney family had no money to pay for a continuation. (A one-sentence notice of appeal would have automatically stayed the case for a year.) This guy was no Atticus Finch.

(Plowden is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Summerton SC. If you’re ever there, piss on his grave. His son, Charles N. Jr., is a retired lawyer in Columbia SC with the firm Richardson Plowden & Robinson, P.A..)

Just 83 days after first being accused of the crimes, George Stinney was put to death. Standing 5’1” and weighing just over 90 pounds, Stinney was so small he had to be seated on a stack of books in the electric chair so his head would reach the electrodes.

The horrible scene of his execution was recreated in the 1991 film Carolina Skeletons:


Since Stinney’s death, it has become known that the real perpetrator, a member of a prominent White family in Alcolu SC, admitted to the murders in a deathbed confession. A member of the perpetrator’s family had served on the coroner’s inquest jury that had recommended Stinney be prosecuted. There’s plenty of guilt and shame to go around.

But none of that will bring back the innocent Black boy who was murdered by the state 68 years ago. Yet maybe it can bring urgent attention to the injustices being perpetrated everyday in America by racist cops, lawyers, prosecutors, and judges who are the children and grandchildren of Plowden’s generation, whose callous trafficking in human flesh continues even today.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to James Taylor performing “Carolina In My Mind”



Teen exonerated 70 years after execution

by Catherine Garcia, The Week

December 17, 2014

In 1944, George Stinney Jr. was executed at the age of 14, so small that he had to sit on a phone book in the electric chair. On Wednesday, 70 years after he was found guilty of murder, Judge Carmen Mullins threw out the conviction.

It took a jury of 12 white men just 10 minutes to find the black teenager guilty of beating two white girls, ages 11 and 8, to death with a railroad spike. Officials in Alcolu, South Carolina, say that the 95-pound Stinney confessed to the murders, and his trial lasted just three hours. Civil rights leaders have long asked to get the case reopened, and in 2009, Stinney’s sister said in an affidavit that she was with her brother the day of the murders and he couldn’t have been involved.

Stinney was the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century; in 1944, 14 was the legal age of criminal responsibility in South Carolina.



10 Responses to “carolina in my mind”

  1. 1 pamelako
    April 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Stinney…absolutely horrifying.

    Dante Evans – black 14 or 15 yo. who killed his extremely abusive father in Mississippi. He is at Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility. He is claiming imperfect self-defense. His case is before the MS Supreme Court on a Writ of Certiorari and his lawyer is Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative.

  2. 3 Cynthia
    April 29, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Can you please update me on Alex King in Florida? They just showed the old story on him and his brother (I won’t type his brother’s name out of the respect of leaving him alone) but then I also watched the follow up story (it was beautiful). I was so touched, I went online for more and saw the felonly charges against him that are ridiculous. I know his running was wrong, but he was scared and plenty of kids his age have done that. It’s not like he was drunk or anything. He made a mistake by panicking. It should be a traffic violation. The last update on him I saw from you was August of last year. I can’t find anything else. Is he still in jail? If so, I would like to write to him. Him wanting books to take Calculus 2 was so impressive. Can you please give me and I’m sure others who want to know, an update? Is he in prison? When will he be released?

  3. 6 Jeanne
    April 29, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Wow.. 1 out of 3 black men will go to prison. This is terrible.

    Also, I am appalled about Stinney. I just cannot believe that even occurred. Could not watch the remake. Too much for me. I am sick.

    Very interesting journal. There is something wrong in the U.S. when 1 out of 3 black men will face prison. It really is so huge. We have a ways to go and this proves it.

    We should be better than this.

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