“I feel real positive and real prayerful that I will get a stay of execution,” said Leonard “Raheem” Taylor, a Black Missouri man scheduled to be killed next week for a crime he is emphatic that he did not commit. On December 3, 2004, Taylor’s girlfriend, Angela Rowe, and her three children were found shot to death at their home. The coroner estimated that they had been dead for two to three days. Taylor was convicted of the quadruple homicide. But he had an “airtight alibi”: he was on a flight to California on November 26, 2004, and multiple witnesses, including Rowe’s sister, told police they spoke to the victim after he had already left. Despite this, Leonard Taylor is slated to be executed on February 7. “I can’t believe that a jury would even come to the conclusion that I committed these crimes,” Taylor said (Kansas City Star, Kansas City Star).
Racism plays a clear role in many of the convictions of Black defendants. 57% of the U.S. prison population consists of Black and Latine people, who comprise just 29% of the total U.S. population (The Sentencing Project). Innocent Black people are about seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than their innocent white counterparts (National Registry of Exonerations).
• Contact Missouri Governor Michael Parson at (573) 751-3222 and demand that Leonard Taylor not be executed. Use the talking points in this toolkit created by Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty.
• Post on social media to demand #JusticeForRaheem – sample copy included in the toolkit.
• Take action to oppose all scheduled executions.
• Use this map to see whether your state supports the death penalty. If it does, research to find a local organization working to abolish it.
Unfortunately, discretion has never guided this country when dealing with racism or the unequal punishments it leverages against Black people. Since 1991, Black people have consistently accounted for 40% of people on death row (NYTimes, NAACP, Death Penalty Information Center).
According to Ngozi Ndulue, the Senior Director of Research and Special Projects for the Death Penalty Information Center, “The death penalty has been used to enforce racial hierarchies throughout United States history, beginning with the colonial period and continuing to this day.” In a report on the historical context of the death penalty, she noted racial disparities at every level of the legal system while equating police shootings and white vigilante violence to a “modern death penalty [that] is the direct descendant of slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow-segregation” (Death Penalty Information Center).
The Supreme Court came to similar conclusions when it struck down the death penalty, also referred to as capital punishment, in 1972 due to the “arbitrary and capricious way” it had been employed up to that point, especially in regards to race. But five years later, the Supreme Court reversed their decision, acknowledging that 66% of Americans supported capital punishment, but with the caveat that a “model of guided discretion” would be used (History). Now, states have the power to choose whether or not to implement the death penalty depending on the severity of the crime committed. As of today, 34 states, including Missouri, where Taylor is currently incarcerated, enforce the death penalty, in addition to the federal government and the U.S. military (Death Penalty Info).
The United States is one of a minority of countries that continues to execute civilians (Cornell Law School). And not only is the practice unjust but barbaric. Executions are conducted “in ways that are tortuous and… that leave prisoners writhing in excruciating pain, often strapped to a gurney for hours,” says Cassandra Stubbs, project director of the Capital Punishment Project at the ACLU. Stubbs says that killing in such a gruesome way “crosses the boundaries of human decency” (USA Today).
Not only is Taylor being convicted for a crime that occurred while he was in a different state, but he’s also being sentenced to death. Capital punishment is enforced in a discriminatory pattern against Black and Latine people. And capital punishment in the United States often occurs through a method that creates hours of agonizing pain. Any of these three issues should be sufficient to end the use of the death penalty both state-by-state and on a constitutional basis.
The organization Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty is one of many that are fighting to end capital punishment. We must fight for #JusticeForRaheem and justice for every person attacked by a blood-stained injustice system.
• Leonard “Raheem” Taylor is scheduled to be executed for a crime committed while he was in a different state.
• Black and Latine people are disproportionately likely to be executed under the death penalty.
• Incarcerated people are not only unfairly sentenced to be killed but are executed in inhumane ways.