Today's Dallas Morning News publishes the OpEd, "Turn the page on racism in Texas death penalty," by Gary Bledsoe. He's the President of the NAACP of Texas, and a former Texas Assistant Attorney General. Here's the beginning of this must-read:
When I was about 10 years old, growing up in Odessa, I got picked up by the police because a car had been stolen the night before. I didn’t know how to drive. In fact, I didn’t even know how to put a key in the ignition. I was late to school that day for no reason.
Actually, there was a reason, just not a good one. I was picked up because I am black. The same thing happened to my friends and members of my family.
That was the early 1960s. A lot has changed for the better since then. Even so, there are still wrongs from our state’s history with racism that haven’t been made right.
Duane Buck was convicted of murder in Harris County in 1997. At his sentencing hearing, the prosecutor relied on testimony from a psychologist who said that Buck would be more dangerous in the future because he is black. The jury agreed that Buck posed a future danger and sentenced him to the ultimate punishment.
People have different views on the death penalty. But we can all agree that we must have compassion for all victims, and also that no one should be sentenced to death because of the color of his skin.
Racial discrimination, or at least the appearance of it, was prevalent among some in the district attorney’s office at the time of Buck’s case. We might add that the perceived bias is historical and not just isolated to one point in time, as we are aware that one DA resigned in recent years after circulating racist emails with his subordinates.
There is also additional video coverage of the Buck case. HuffPost Live streamed, "Killing Duane Buck," hosted by Marc Lamont Hill. Houston ABC affiliate's KTRK-TV News program "Crossroads," hosted by Melanie Lawson, also provided coverage of the case.
Today, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will hear Senfronia Thompson's HB 2458. The Committee agenda is available in Adobe .pdf format. The Committee will convene upon adjournment of the House. You can watch streaming video of the meeting at the link. Be aware that bills may be brought up out of order of the printed agenda.
NAACP LDF has issued a news release, "Former Governor, Former Prosecutor, Civil Rights Leaders, and Other Prominent Individuals Offer Testimony in Favor of Texas Racial Justice Act. Testimony: Duane Buck’s Case, Whose Sentencing Hearing Was Poisoned With Racial Discrimination, Shows That Texas Needs The Racial Justice Act."
Here's the beginning of the release:
Several prominent Texans submitted testimony to the House of Representatives Criminal Jurisprudence Committee today in support of the Racial Justice Act, which seeks to prohibit the imposition of a death sentence or execution under any judgment that was sought or obtained on the basis of race. The Harris County, Texas, death penalty case of Duane Buck was cited as a clear example of how racial discrimination corrupts Texas’ death penalty system. Mr. Buck, an African American man, was condemned to death in 1997 after his sentencing jury was told that he posed a future danger because he is Black.
The Criminal Jurisprudence Committee is hearing testimony today on House Bill 2458, Texas Racial Justice Act, sponsored by Representative Senfronia Thompson, who represents District 141, which includes part of Harris County.
Those offering testimony in favor of the Racial Justice Act include: Mark White, Texas Governor (1983-1987); Linda Geffin, former Harris County Assistant District Attorney who served as a prosecutor in Mr. Buck’s case; and Yannis Banks, Texas NAACP Legislative Liaison.
“The way we determine punishment in the United States is with a fair trial and sentencing. Duane Buck did not receive that. His case, and other cases, shows how racial discrimination can infect Texas’ courtrooms. We cannot condone any form of racial discrimination in our criminal justice system and we must act to end it,” said Governor White in testimony submitted to the Committee. Governor White and more than 100 civil rights leaders, clergy, elected officials, past ABA Presidents and former judges and prosecutors delivered a letter to Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson urging a new, fair sentencing hearing for Mr. Buck.
Earlier coverage of the Duane Buck case begins at the link.