Essay Kevin Cooper Original

Kevin Cooper: An Undeniable Truth

The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison, completed in 2010. CACorrections (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By Kevin Cooper / Original to ScheerPost

As a man of African American descent who has studied and learned the truth about American history— the real truth about the real history of this country—I have learned about the death penalty—how it was and continues to be used and misused on poor and Black people especially. 

This is true whether it be initiated by its law enforcement officers at the front end of this country’s criminal justice system or on the back end by its state or federal executioners. I have learned these truths through my personal experience of almost being murdered by the state of California in 2004, when I came within 3 hours and 42 minutes of being tortured to death by way of lethal injection. 

I have become, from learning and experience, an abolitionist, and I am wholeheartedly against the death penalty in all of its various, heinous and torturous methods. I say this so that my essay will not be misunderstood by anyone as I write about what I heard while watching the news about double murderer Alex Murdaugh’s sentencing in South Carolina. 

Here in the divided states of America, a superior court judge who is a black man said to Alex Murdaugh, who is a white man, that “other people have been sentenced to death for less” than Murdaugh is being sentenced to life without parole. What an undeniable truth this is, especially coming from the mouth of a Black judge who has to know the complete history of the death penalty in South Carolina. 

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This is also the truth—that the white man who is the head prosecutor of that county in South Carolina refused to seek the death penalty for the once very wealthy Murdaugh, a white man, even though he was charged with brutally murdering his wife and son. He is also being investigated for other possible murders.

There is no doubt in my mind that if Alex Murdaugh was a Black man, wealthy or not, and was charged with murdering a white woman and her son, he would have been facing the death penalty because that prosecutor would have been seeking it. 

Even if that Black man was charged with murdering his Black wife and son, the prosecutor would have sought the death penalty. This is a historical truth about the death penalty in this country and who receives it and who doesn’t. 

I speak to this fact not only from a historical perspective, but from a personal one as well. As a Black man who is on death row at San Quentin prison after being convicted of murdering four white people and sentenced to death by gas chamber, the method of execution at that time in this state, I have studied the history of lynching and executions in learning about America’s tortured history. 

I have proclaimed my innocence since I was first arrested in 1983, I still proclaim my innocence 40 years later in 2023, and I will continue to do so forever. I was sentenced to death in liberal California, but in a conservative county in San Diego after a change of venue from San Bernardino, another conservative county. I was sentenced to death because of the color of my skin and because of the color of the skin of the victims, as well as the horrific nature of the crime.I understand these truths, and I understand why Alex Murdaugh was not sentenced to death. His skin color prevented this, even though his wife and son had the same color of skin too.

These truths I write have been factually documented; that the race of the victim(s) can be the major factor on who receives the death penalty or not, along with the race of the accused, and the class of the accused. This unspoken reality is why Black people represent only 13% of the population—Black men an even slimmer 7% of people in the US— in this country yet make up half of the population of death row inmates across this country 

America has never had a problem with giving the death penalty to Black people as a whole, or Black men in particular, especially in ex-slave states like South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, just to name a few. Yet this same type of thing is happening in this progressive state of California, where conservative counties send more Black and Latino men to death row than any of the other counties in this state. 

As I alluded to earlier, I am an abolitionist, and I am also a truth teller in a time when the truth, just like justice, is defined by the people who are either for it, or against it, no matter what it is. 

We can all recognize that life, real life, is not fair, and this includes a place that claims that there is equal justice under the criminal justice system. We can all recognize that it doesn’t have to be this way, and that anything unfair can be made to be fair if enough people care to do something about it. We can do something about this unjust system of state execution by ending the death penalty in California once and for all. 

For that Black judge in South Carolina to state on the court record in front of a packed courtroom, the TV cameras, prosecutors, and police officials, that other people have received the death penalty for less than what Alex Murdaugh received life without parole for, is a hell of a statement.

It is a statement that we should all learn something from, especially in a system that has equal justice under law written into it. The culture of racism in most prosecutors’ offices across this country is obvious, and hidden at the same time. This contradiction is just as real as the wealthy white men who mostly run and control this system and its district attorneys. The very real life and death plight of poor people and Black people in this country’s criminal justice system compared to that of wealthy or influential white people like Alex Murdaugh not only speaks to the institutional racism in this system, but to classism as well. How can there ever be real justice in a so-called justice system when these never ending “-isms” won’t go away? 

Capital punishment has outlived its time, and the only way for all of us to have some fairness in this unfair system is to end the death penalty once and for all! 

Here’s another contradiction for you—and yes it’s a historical one as well—in the segregated south, the only chair that poor white men and poor black men were allowed to sit in as equals was “’old Sparky,” the electric chair.

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Kevin Cooper

In 1985, Kevin Cooper was convicted of a 1983 quadruple murder and sentenced to death in a trial in which evidence that might have exonerated him was withheld or destroyed from the defense. Cooper has become active in writing from prison to assert his innocence, protest racism in the American criminal justice system, and oppose the death penalty. His case was scrutinized by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof on Jan. 23, 2021May 17, 2018 and June 17, 2017, and by 48 Hours, with Erin Moriarty, most recently on March 21, 2020 in “The Troubling Case Against Keven Cooper.” 

CC-BY-NC-ND is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license. CC-BY-NC-ND only applies to ORIGINAL ScheerPost content.

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