February 7, 2023
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ColumnsSeeking Justice

Rodney Reed deserves justice

In 1998, Rodney Reed was convicted of raping and strangling Stacey Stites while she was on her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, Texas. Reed was convicted after results came back with his DNA on Stites’ body, even though he admitted he was having an ongoing affair with her. Stites, who was 19 years old, was strangled, and her body was dumped alongside a road, according to The New York Times. Prosecutors claimed that she had also been raped. All the evidence besides Reed’s DNA on Stites’ body points to her fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell. Arthur J. Snow Jr., who served time in prison with Fennell, said in a sworn affidavit that Fennell bragged about murdering Stites by saying, “I had to kill my n*****-loving fiance.” As of today, Reed, who is now 51, has been on death row for over 20 years and is set to be executed by lethal injection Nov. 20. 

Reed is only one of the many black men who have been wrongfully convicted and executed at the hands of a nation that perpetually utilizes black peoples’ bodies for profit. When it comes to black lives, the scale of justice never seems to be equal. As a result of a justice system that is flawed, the death penalty should be abolished. There have been numerous examples of black men and women that have been wrongfully convicted of crimes they never even committed. The justice system has a way of ensuring that black people are criminalized for even existing. Just a few days ago, a black man was arrested for eating a sandwich on a train platform

The very existence of black people is a threat to the ideologies of America. That is why black people’s access to knowledge has been censored, their voices have been minimized, their access to clean water has been restricted, they are marketed to by cigarette companies and junk food brands and their very lives are taken from them when police think they get out of line.

Black men and women are overrepresented in the prison systems. Private prisons literally make profits from black people. According to the NAACP, if African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by 40%. Black people are conditioned to have their lives taken from them. It starts at childhood. Nationwide, African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested and 52% of children whose cases are judicially waived to criminal court. One of the worst parts is that African Americans and Hispanics make up 32% of the U.S. population but comprise 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015. So just imagine how many of these black and brown individuals were wrongfully executed. 

The U.S. has a way of dehumanizing those in prison as if they are any less human. But when do we stop to question the police officers with implicit biases toward black people and the judges who are racist? How about a system that benefits from black and brown people staying in jail? The racism faced by Reed started far before he was ever put behind bars. 

The foundation of the U.S. prison system is racism, so the administration of the death penalty was bound to be racist as well. 

The death penalty should die, right here, right now. Because with one injection, people’s lives are taken from them, specifically those who are black and brown. Many of them never even committed the crime they were murdered for. Yes, murdered — taking someone’s life for something they did not do is murder. Rodney Reed should not be another black man whose life is taken at the hands of a corrupt justice system. When will true justice be found for the black men and women who were murdered by our justice system?

John Turner can be reached at jturner3@ithaca.edu