Sep 30, 2011

To Be Equal #39
September 28, 2011
A Long Shadow of Doubt: The Execution of Troy Davis

Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League

“When ... the Supreme Court gave its seal of approval to capital punishment, this endorsement was premised on the promise that capital punishment would be administered with fairness and justice. Instead, the promise has become a cruel and empty mockery. If not remedied, the scandalous state of our present system of capital punishment will cast a pall of shame over our society for years to come. We cannot let it continue.” Former United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall

Last Wednesday, September 21, 2011 was a sad day for American justice. On that date at 11:08 PM Eastern Time the State of Georgia administered a lethal injection into the body of 42-year-old Troy Davis and put him to death. With his dying breath, Troy Davis maintained his innocence in the 1989 shooting death of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail. For 20 years, the shadow of doubt that hung over Davis’ conviction grew so large that it galvanized anti-death penalty advocates around the world, including hundreds of citizens wearing “I am Troy Davis” T-shirts who kept a solemn vigil outside the Jackson, Georgia prison until the final hour

Over the last 20 years, the National Urban League and dozens of other prominent organizations and leaders argued that Davis’s conviction was in serious doubt. Seven of the nine witnesses who originally identified Troy Davis as the murderer, later recanted their testimony. And no murder weapon or other physical evidence was ever found linking Davis to the crime. That is why we joined the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, Amnesty International, former president Jimmy Carter, Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, Al Sharpton, former FBI Director William Sessions, Pope Benedict, former Georgia Congressman, Bob Barr and others in calling for Davis’ exoneration or at least further investigation.

The racial subtext of this case cannot be ignored. Davis, a black man, was convicted of killing MacPhail, a white police officer. While African Americans make up only 13 percent of the population, more than 42 percent of death row inmates are black. Over 75 percent of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution were white, even though nationally, only 50 percent of murder victims were white. .

Since 1973, a total of 138 man and women have been exonerated or had their death sentences commuted based on post-conviction findings that proved their innocence -- five of them in the state of Georgia. And, according to the Innocence Project, “Seventeen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. They were convicted in 11 states and served a combined 209 years in prison – including 187 years on death row – for crimes they didn’t commit.” These disparities and problems cast a long shadow of doubt over our criminal justice system.

People of conscience can disagree on the death penalty, but it is unconscionable by every standard to execute someone who very well might be innocent. Our hearts go out not only to Mr. Davis’ family, but also to the family of Mark MacPhail who will never know for sure that his killer was brought to justice.

Legendary Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall was unequivocally against the death penalty and would have been a dissenter in last week’s 11th-hour Supreme Court decision allowing the execution of Troy Davis. Justice Marshall felt, as we do, that as long as questions of equity, fairness and fallibility persist, we must stop executions and give death row inmates every chance to prove their innocence.


Sep 8, 2011

Back to School and Back to Work on Creating Jobs

To Be Equal #36
September 7, 2011
Back to School and Back to Work on Creating Jobs
Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League

"A world-class education is the single most important factor in determining not just whether our kids can compete for the best jobs but whether America can out-compete countries around the world.” President Barack Obama

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer and the start of another school year for more than 60 million public school students.

This year, the Labor Day weekend also coincided with the announcement last week that zero jobs were added in August, and African American unemployment has soared to 16.7 percent, the highest rate in 27 years.

It is my hope that with the return of Congress this week and the much-anticipated jobs speech by President Obama on Thursday, Washington is finally ready to make job creation its number one priority.

Education has always been the gateway to good jobs and a better life for the American people.

This has never been more true than today.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people who hold bachelor’s degrees earn on average $58,000 a year compared with just $31,000 for high school graduates and only $21,000 for those without high school diplomas.

We also know that a growing number of 21st century high-tech jobs require higher skills and more education than ever before.

That is why for more than 50 years, the National Urban League’s Education & Youth Development division has worked to improve educational opportunities for African-American and underserved students by developing innovative programs to support their academic achievement, encourage their civic involvement, and contribute to their healthy physical and emotional development. We have also made education a cornerstone of our 21st century empowerment agenda with a challenge to the nation that every American child will be ready for college, work and life by 2025.

The Urban League serves more than 200,000 children and youth each year through Head Start, after-school programs and charter schools.

As the nation struggles to find the right balance between fiscal austerity and necessary investments in our future, the education of our children must not be sacrificed in the process.

Doing so would not only shortchange their futures, it would cripple our ability to grow the American economy and remain competitive in the global economy.

We are encouraged by the Obama Administration’s commitment to education, including signing into law the largest investment in education in history as part of the President’s 2009 stimulus package – some $115 billion over two years to save education jobs, send young people to college, modernize America's classrooms, and advance education reforms.

We are also pleased that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has set aside this week for an “Education and the Economy” bus tour to urban centers, including Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Chicago to highlight the important connection between quality education and quality jobs. “No other issue is more critical to our economy and our way of life than education,” said Duncan.

So, as our children head back to the classroom, we urge students to do their part by studying hard and making the most of what their schools and teachers have to offer.

We ask parents to do their part by getting involved.

And we urge local school districts and Congress to do their part by ensuring that all our students have the resources and support they need to succeed.