Episode 67 - What’s your position on the death penalty?

Transcript, Web links and Credits below.


Did you see that the Trump administration just announced that they are going to restart the death penalty on the federal level? It was functionally stopped all the way back in 2003 during the Bush administration and not a single man or woman has been executed by the federal government for 16 years. The death penalty is now completely outlawed in almost every developed country in the world. 21 states have now banned it.

Today I want to make my case on why you should be against the death penalty. I’m going to keep it all the way honest. I’ll tell you why I’m against it and I’ll tell you why Trump is doing this now — basically playing on the most vile instincts of this nation.

Let’s dig in.

This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!


What do you believe in? I know that’s a broad question, but I think it’s an important one. What’s your political philosophy? What are the policies you are fighting for and what are the policies you are fighting against?

I think one of the key reasons liberals and progressives and Democrats so often fail is because of a lack of political clarity on actual beliefs, positions, and values. It’s not enough to just be generally — or rather generically — a good person. Stop being vaguely good. What are the issues that keep you up at night? What battles and causes are you fighting for?

And here’s how I say we can prove whether or not you’re serious about any of them. If I ask your friends and family the two causes that you care about the most, if they can’t name them right away, then you don’t have any. Because when you have a cause, it’s like a contagious calling, and everybody around you knows about it.

Because here’s what I know — we are fighting against people who are truly cruel and corrupt. And if we are going to defeat them politically, we have to be laser-focused and unified on some core issues that matter. For instance, you’d struggle to find just 2-3 pro-choice Republicans — because the entire party is completely unified against a woman’s right to choose.

They are basically pro-fetus, but anti-child. They love fetuses and will fight to protect them until the day they’re born — and from there they completely check out. It’s part of why I even reject the term pro-life. They aren’t pro-life at all. They aren’t pro-life when it comes to poverty, war, or gun violence. They aren’t pro-life when it comes to police brutality or global warming or universal healthcare.

And so, when Trump announces that he’s bringing back the death penalty on the federal level, it’s to appeal to what I think is a growing strain of hate and violence in this nation. And for a few minutes I want to give you the hardcore facts on why I’m against the death penalty and why I hope you’ll join me by making this an actual value of yours as well.

Let me break it down. (break it down music)

So far, since 1973, at least 166 people who were sentenced to death — I mean arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced to death, then sent all the way to death row — at least 166 of those people have been found to be completely innocent. In almost all of those cases, they didn’t even have anything at all to do with the crime they were convicted for. I mean they weren’t even accessories. They were completely innocent people. In our nation, the system that we call the justice system (but that many of us are starting to call the “legal system,” because it has so little justice) is so horrible that 166 innocent people spent a combined thousands of years in prison, waiting to be executed, and were often saved at the very last minute when it was determined that they were completely innocent.

And I spoke this morning to several of my friends at the Innocence Project and at the Justice Collaborative and The Appeal, and, without fail, each of them told me that it’s widely believed by experts that more innocent people were executed than the number of innocent people who have been exonerated.

Did you hear what I just said? While 166 people who were sent to death row were later set free, most experts believe that more than 166 innocent people have been executed in this nation across the years.

Could you imagine for a moment just what it would feel like even to be wrongly accused of a heinous crime that you had nothing to do with? Then being arrested for it? Then formally charged with a murder that you had nothing to do with? Then being convicted for it? Sent to prison over it. Then sentenced to death for it?

I just want you to imagine how horrible it would be to be executed for a crime you didn’t commit. It’s unthinkable.

For me — and of course I’m always just speaking for myself here — but for me, the possibility that even ONE single human being could be wrongfully executed warrants stopping the entire practice. That alone is enough for me. But that stance would suggest that you actually value people’s lives. And what I know is that, for millions of Americans, people on death row are simply throwaway people. They don’t give a damn about them. Even if they are innocent — they don’t really care because they don’t really care about them if they are in jail or out of jail.

But let me frame it differently. If you are for the death penalty, what you are saying is that being able to execute some people that you think are monsters means so much to you that you are also willing to execute some people who are fully innocent as well — just to execute those that may be fully guilty. That’s the tradeoff.

And guess what race the majority of exonerees are? It’s a rhetorical question. Black men represent just about 7 percent of the United States population but a staggering 62 percent of all people exonerated by DNA evidence.

Let me just kick some knowledge for a moment. Let me expose why, when they started saying All Lives Matter, they never really meant it.

Eighty-seven percent of the time when the death penalty is imposed — the victim is white.

When a white person is killed, the death penalty is 11 times more likely to be given than when a black person is killed. But it goes deeper.

When the race of the defendant is considered, 22 percent of black defendants who kill white victims are sentenced to death; 8 percent of white defendants who kill white victims are sentenced to death; 1 percent of black defendants who kill black victims are sentenced to death; and 3 percent of white defendants who kill black victims are sentenced to death.

In other words, when it comes to the death penalty, the two biggest factors are:

  1. Was a white person killed?

  2. Did a Black person kill them?

Anything other than that and you probably aren’t going to get the death penalty. And what that means is that the wheels are greased, the books are cooked, the system is built to hyper-charge and hyper-convict Black people who kill white people — particularly white women. And, as I am sure you know, that goes back hundreds of years. And because the system is so strongly structured to arrest, convict, sentence, and execute Black men who kill white women — what we see is that hundreds of Black men have been wrongly sentenced to death for crimes they had nothing to do with. So what determines who gets the death penalty and who doesn’t has very little to do with the nature of the crime, but really everything to do with who committed the crime, what’s their race, what’s their zip code, what’s their economic status, who did they kill, and what’s the victim’s race and class? So if the defendant checks the boxes of being Black and poor with horrible attorneys — and the victim checks the boxes of being white, a woman, and from an opposing zip code — you can predict the death penalty with painful certainty.

And Trump himself has a history here because in 1989 he started calling for New York to execute the Central Park Five for a brutal sexual assault they had nothing to do with. I know these men. I’m doing an event tonight (7/30/19) with Korey Wise for the family of Eric Garner.

But what disturbs me so much now is the number of lifelong Democrats across the country who effectively agree with Trump.

Los Angeles is seen as one of the most liberal cities in America, but the District Attorney there — a horrible DA named Jackie Lacey, a lifelong Democrat — has successfully sought the death penalty against 22 different people. Guess what a new report shows? Not a single one of them was white. Not one. White people have murdered hundreds of people in Los Angeles since she was in office and not a single one was sentenced to death. Not one.

We see other Democratic District Attorneys like Kim Ogg in Houston and Katherine Fernandez Rundle — who has been the DA of Miami for a staggering 26 years — doing the very same thing. The Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, is fighting tooth and nail to preserve the death penalty there.

So yes, Trump is problematic here, but Democrats are sending people — almost exclusively Black and Latino — from coast to coast to death row. And I’ll close today with one personal, internal action step I need you to take.

(Action Steps Music)

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley just released a brand new bill before the House banning the death penalty on the federal level. Every major presidential candidate running for the Democratic nomination is now against the death penalty.

But what are you for? I’d like for you to think through your philosophy and position on this, then email me and our team right away at thebreakdown@thenorthstar.com.


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Produced by Willis Polk II

Additional Production by Christian “Idrys” Shannon

Additional Instrumentation by Christian “Idrys” Shannon, Lance "Lance Fury" Powlis & Markeith Black

Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library

Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush, Jason Coffey & Miranda pka 1stLAdy

Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg