I used to be an active member of the community working to abolish the death penalty. This activism began around junior high school and reached its height after I finished producing and finally doing outreach on a feature length documentary about Former Illinois Governor Ryan's decision to issue blanket clemency, Deadline.
But then I kind of burnt out, in a big way.
It was too hard to watch people get executed, right and left, for small crimes or worse, for things they did not do. I still get tons of emails from people I used to work with and every once in a while, they get me to come out of retirement to a rally. But that is pretty rare. I tend to sign a petition and go on my way.
If Kenneth Foster were executed, he would have been the 400th executed in Texas. 400th! But he was not. The commutation of Kenneth Foster is such an amazing victory that it makes me see a light at the end of the tunnel. It gives me hope!
There are many lessons to be learned from this case. I was most shocked to learn about a shocking law in Texas. The folks at the Death Penalty Information Center describe it best:
Foster was sentenced to death under the Texas Law of Parties that permits a person involved in a crime to be held accountable for the actions committed by someone else. Foster was tried along with a co-defendant who actually shot the victim in this case. Two other co-defendants pled guilty and received lesser sentences after testifying in Foster's trial. In Foster's case, Texas maintained that he deserved the death penalty because he should have anticipated that a passenger in his vehicle, Mauriceo Brown, would exit the car with a weapon and fatally shoot the victim, Michael LaHood.
This is just one of many loopholes in our legal systems that continue to keep innocent people incarcerated. Let me not even get into how our country profits off of the prison industrial complex and how many people are heavily invested in keeping warm bodies in prison any way they can. That rant is for another day.
This entry is a celebration and a congrats to everyone who has worked so hard for this victory. Dave Zirin, a sports writer for The Nation. (This is usually a stopping point for people so let me explain. Yes, it seems strange that a lefty mag like The Nation has a sports writer but it is true. Zirin, however, is more concerned with sports' place in the political and sociological arenas.)
Zirin wrote a great entry about Kenneth Foster and the joy he feels is palpable. "I sit here stunned: a goofy smile on my face, a tear on my cheek. This must be what victory feels like. Forgive me if I'm not familiar with its near-narcotic euphoria." His entry also features a letter Kenneth Foster wrote to him. Zirin thought this letter might act as a eulogy of sorts. Let us be happy it was not.