RACE-BASED JUSTICE: Alabama’s Enduring Legacy to Keep African-Americans in Servitude
By KINETIK JUSTICE
In theory, the 13th Amendment put an end to and forever abolished slavery, at least that is what we’ve been taught in schools. However, in actual practice, the 13th Amendment merely changed the name, method and rationale for keeping African Americans in a state of perpetual servitude. As the 13th Amendment explicitly permits ” Involuntary Servitude”– an euphemism for Slavery– as punishment for “duly convicted criminals.”
WHO DEFINES CRIME & WHO IS THE CRIMINAL?
In direct response to this Constitutional mandate, every southern state created an array of “stay in your place” laws. Which, by design, methodically criminalized every aspect if African American life. History has well documented that Alabama took this mandate to heart. As from its inception, the Alabama Judicial System was structured to keep white land owners in a position of power and Africans in their place– Servitude.
In fact, the State of Alabama used the 13the Amendment as their foundation in drafting the ALABAMA CONSTITUTION OF 1901. As the Alabama Legislature used their authority to set up court systems, appointed only white people as Judges and District Attorneys, pre arranged elections for those positions that had to be voted on, then expanded the criminal code as its effective means of carrying out their objective. By their own admission, the State of Alabama’s sole purpose in drafting the Constitution of 1901 was to establish “White Supremacy”- by law. As the delegates to the all-white Constitutional Convention, were not secretive about their purpose and aims. In the opening address, President of the Convention, John B. Knox stated:
“And what is it that we want to do? Why is it within the limits imposed by the federal constitution to establish white supremacy in this state.” … “but if we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law…”
In keeping with the sentiments of John B. Knox, the State of Alabama has used the Constitution of 1901 to construct a solid foundation, in which to discriminate from.
The history books are replete with examples of Alabama’s blatant racially motivated enactment of laws targeting young Africans males. Even to this day, Alabama openly applies its laws discrimately, first –based upon race, then upon financial status. Alabama’s “good old boy”-style of justice is maintained and perpetuated by police officers “overreaching”, district attorneys” overcharging” and judges “over sentencing.”
All of this is made possible by the Alabama Constitution of 1901 and the Alabama Legislature, as it is the Alabama Legislature that enact these laws that specifically target young African-American males, particularly and African-Americans in general. One glaring example, is the racially motivated amending of the Capital Murder statute to include Section 16, 17 and 18- or commonly called the “drive-by shooting laws”. Though not discriminatory on their face nor in literal wording, but let’s examine the Legislatures motive and the District Attorneys statewide application—
According to the Alabama Legislature, in the early 1990’s there was a massive public outcry against “gangs”, so in 1992 the Legislature passed Act 92-601; which made a murder committed by the use of a deadly weapon fired from or into a vehicle, a Capital Offense–punishable by death or life without parole.
Act 92-601 became codified in Title 13A-5-40(a)(16),(17) and (18). From a plain reading of the statute, in order to be charged and found guilty of the Capital Offense, all that’s required is that the shooter or victim be in a vehicle or house at the time of the murder. Prior to this amendment, all Capital Offenses required an aggravating circumstance in order to elevate the murder to a death penalty offense. However, the “drive-by shooting laws” are simply based upon location of the shooter or victim.
As stated earlier, the statute doesn’t appear to be discriminatory from a literal reading. – “They have long learned how to change the language of oppression without changing the conditions. It’s the Art of Rhetoric.”
LETS LOOK AT ITS APPLICATION
In February of 1994, Oeatha Archie III was alleged to have been sitting in a vehicle, when he fatally shot someone that was outside the vehicle. Oeatha was charged with Capital Murder, then sentenced to Life Without Parole.
In September of 1994, Tony Knight was alleged to have been standing outside a vehicle, when he fatally shot someone that fell into a vehicle. Tony was charged with Capital Murder, then sentenced to Life Without Parole.
In October of 1994, Brian Smith was alleged to have been sitting in his vehicle, when he fatally shot someone that was outside the vehicle. Brian was charged with Capital Murder, then sentenced to Life Without Parole.
In October of 1996, Dennis McGriff was alleged to have been sitting inside a vehicle, when he fatally shot someone outside the vehicle. Dennis was charged with Capital Murder, then sentenced to Death by Electrocution.
All 4 were young black males when they were arrested. And there are several other young black males, languishing away with Life Without Parole, in the Alabama prison system, with identical situations.
In November of 1999, Shirley Henson was alleged to have been sitting in a vehicle, when she fatally shot someone outside the vehicle. From the very beginning, the District Attorney and the Media labeled this a case of “Road Rage”. Capital Murder was never mentioned nor considered, as Henson was charged and convicted of a much lesser charge of “heat of passion” manslaughter, then sentenced to 13 years. Shirley Henson just happened to be a middle class white lady.
So the question becomes, WHAT MADE SHIRLEY HENSON DIFFERENT FROM OEATHA ARCHIE, TONY KNIGHT, BRIAN SMITH AND DENNIS McGRIFF???
It’s obvious that race matters when Prosecutors decide who to charge with Capital Murder. However, the Prosecutors in Calhoun County didn’t get the memo for how the statute was to be applied.
As in March of 2003, Phillip Fondren, a white male, was charged with Capital Murder, for shooting from a vehicle when the victim was outside the vehicle. Fondren was even sentenced to Life Without Parole.
HOLD UP, WAIT A MINUTE!!!
Due to Phillip Fondren’s case, the Alabama Legislature stepped in and sought to clarify the intent of the “drive-by shooting laws.”
In March if 2006, Representatives Marcel Black and John Robinson authored a Bill and presented it to the House of Representatives, which addressed the application of subdivisions 16, 17 and 18 of Title 13A-5-40, I.e., the Capital Murder statute. In session it was stated:
“Whereas, the legislature is aware of the case of State of Alabama v. Fondren (Calhoun County CC 02-600) in which Fondren was convicted of Capital Murder for violating Section 14A-5-40(a)(18)…”
On March 28, 2006, this Bill was adopted by the House of Representatives. On April 17, 2006, this Bill was adopted and signed by the Senate. Upon both Houses adopting this Bill, it became House Joint Resolution 575. In accordance with the procedure for passing a Bill into a Law, the House Joint Resolution was delivered to the Governor. On April 27, 2006 at 1:09 p.m. Governor Bob Riley signed the Bill. It became Act No. 2006-642, which stated in pertinent part:
” …in passing Act 92-601, it was the intent of the legislature in adding sub division (18) to address “drive-by shooting”, that is murder committed through the use of a deadly weapon …used within or from a vehicle which murders were gang related or intended to incite public terror or alarm.”
In HJR 575 (Act No. 2006-642) the legislature recognized that Section 13A-5-40(a)(17),(18) has been misinterpreted by prosecutors and courts to apply to any murder committed by or through the use of a deadly weapon, fired or otherwise used within or from a vehicle, even if it was not gang related. Being that this interpretation was contrary to the legislatures intent, the Legislature urged the Attorney General and District Attorneys to charge only those individuals who commit murder by or through the use of a deadly weapon fired or otherwise within or from a vehicle, when the vehicle was involved in the shooting or that the shooting was gang related.
This clarification by the legislature should have changed the sentences for countless individuals serving Life Without Parole behind the prosecutors and judges misapplication of the law. But it didn’t, in fact the Attorney General has refused to respect the legislatures resolution. In a Declaratory Judgment filed by Brian Smith – asking the Court to declare the application of the ” drive-by shooting” statute as unconstitutional, the Attorney General argued that 13A-5-40(18) did not itself state that it applied only to gang related murder and the resolution was just the legislatures opinion. However, all judges are not so disrespectful to the intentions and clarification of the law makers of this State. As former Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb has urged the legislature to go one step further, and amend the “drive-by shooting” statutes, so that the plain language of the statute will effectuate the legislatures intent ad expressed in House Joint Resolution 575(Act No. 2006-642).
There are also a few Circuit Court Judges that have given effect to the legislatures Resolution. In Huntsville, Alabama, Madison County Circuit Judge Loyd H. Little reduced Walter Lamont Perry’s Capital Murder charge to regular murder. Assistant D.A. Bill Starnes stated the reason for the charge being reduced as: “The law on shooting into an occupied vehicle has changed because the Alabama Legislature recently indicated that the intent of the law was to address “drive-by shootings” and because the vehicle was stationary when the fatal shooting occurred, the death penalty charge no longer applied.” Based upon the foregoing and the House Joint Resolution as well as the urging of former Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb, FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT is campaigning to make the Legislature amend the Capital Murder statute to reflect their true intentions, as stated in the House Joint Resolution 575.