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Demanding Death

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

Michael Alan Durocher, of Florida's Death Row, wrote to the Governor, literally begging for death. Gov. Lawton Chiles agreed, signed his death warrant, and Durocher sent him a thank you note.

On August 25, 1993, at 7:15 a.m., Durocher, 33, got his wish.

California's death row convict, David Mason, fired his appellate lawyers, saying he was both willing and ready to breathe his last in the gas chamber. Mason, 36, angrily decried what he called the "industry" of lawyers who capitalize off of appeals in capital cases. Even after his last ditch change of heart, where he sought life, his case came to symbolize the growing incidence of death row prisoners who demand death. There is, however, a critical difference between perception and reality.

There are approximately 2,600 men and women on Death Row in the U.S.. To date, only 26 people have volunteered to be executed; less than 1%. The Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has assembled facts on this phenomenon detailing the race of those persons choosing execution and found what is shown on TABLE 1:







No meaningful analysis of the incidence of volunteer execution can take place without noting who does so. How does a bare minority of Death Row, become an over whelming majority?

Whites constitutes less than 51% of all Death Row prisoners in the U.S., so why are over 80% of the volunteers white?

Nationally, blacks constitute roughly 46% of state prisoners. In 35 states, new court commitments for blacks entering prison stands at 51.3% of all admissions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Increasingly, since the rebellions of the 60's, prisons have become blacker and blacker, a threatening, fearful milieu to white prisoners, among them, those on an increasingly blacker Death Row.

For far too many African-Americans, imprisonment has become a warped rite of passage, a malevolent mark of "manhood" that denies black men entry into more socially acceptable realms of economic activity. For whites, however, even working class, it is a mark of social expulsion, and affirmation of one's outcast status. Alienated from a social order that has prescribed death, and further alienated from a younger, blacker, more militant prisoner either on death row or in population, is there any wonder that the majority of prisoners who have opted for death have been white? To this must be added the onslaught from the federal judiciary which has eviscerated the Writ of Habeas, thereby thickening the atmosphere of despair that pervades Death Row. For all on Death Row, White, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, or women, the regime of lockdown, loneliness, and hopeless waits for death exacts a terrible psychic, spiritual, psychological toll. Fear of approaching, advancing lassitude, the loosening bonds of loved ones, the specter of prison as a foreboding old folk's home--all these things play a part, more crucial than admitted, in the headlong rush for death.

As long as conditions on the Row are soul-killing by design, there will continually be those who would rather die than live another day in these man made hells.

Reprinted from Endeavor.

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