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Procedural bar

A loophole for the rich, a noose for the poor

Published Nov 17, 2006 12:06 AM

This article was written before Willie Shannon was executed on Nov. 8. A lively and angry protest was held outside the death house in Huntsville, Texas, as Shannon’s special friend Regina Schmall and three others witnessed the execution. Shannon’s funeral was held Nov. 11 in Columbus, Texas, where Shannon grew up. The church was packed with family, friends and the community.

Shannon had been a member of PURE —Panthers United for Revolutionary Education—and as requested, was buried with a black beret, a black jacket and boots. His coffin was covered with a red, green, and black African Liberation flag. In his hand was a beautiful, simple light blue origami flower, made by Shannon’s comrade and the author of this article. Muenda, a founder and leader, of PURE Muenda has spent the last 30 years on death row and continues to be a political influence there.

On Nov. 8, Willie Shannon, a Texas death row prisoner, is slated to die. And if no authoritative hand intervenes—judge, governor or God—he will be put down by a law designed specifically to bring finality to death penalty cases.

To keep cases moving through the different layers of appeal, the state legislators designed a time limitation rule, commonly called procedural bar. It requires that all legal motions be filed in a timely fashion. Failure to meet a single deadline bars the defendant from filing anything further. All rights to appeal are instantly waived—thus the name procedural bar. The defendant is then executed by default.

To say this rule was put into effect without genuine sentiments, that it was devised expressly to hang the poor and let loose the rich, is indeed grave and extreme. It can neither be proven nor disproved. But genuine sentiments or not, the class that’s exclusively affected by this rule is well established.

In nearly 30 years of reading case law, never once have I come across a case involving a rich person who had been procedurally barred. Well-paid lawyers hired by the affluent never, for any reason, miss filing deadlines.

So why is it that the poor and the poor alone, represented by court-appointed counselors, are consistently hit with the bar?

The answer to this single truth can only be conjectural. But being that it adversely affects the poor unilaterally and people of color disproportionately, race and class bias must be considered.

The great American pretense is that we’re all one people, representing a single national interest, with the fairness of democracy extended to all. But the truth is that democracy is not extended to all, and we do not share and can never share the same national interest.

As long as we live in a nation where one culture dominates all others; where there is racial favoritism; where a small few appropriate a disproportionate amount of the nation’s wealth to itself; and where some live inside the mainstream while others live on the margins, we have no common interest.

When this myth is exposed, we see clearly a country of antagonisms. So why the myth? What is this supposed national interest, anyway? And, more important, by whom and against whom is it defended?

A good place to start is with the Republicans and the Democrats. They are the two controlling parties. When it comes to lawyers, judges, prosecutors and politicians, nine out of 10 belong to one or the other party. They control, believe in, and defend the capitalist system. They will tell you themselves that their values “are American values,” that their interests represent the national interest of the country.

In fact, they are literally offended by things and images perceived to be uncouth or un-American: saggy pants, rap music, gays, lesbians, Muslims, poor whites who are considered trash, Chicanos from the barrios, Blacks from the ghettos, socialists, radicals, and people who protest against the war.

When it comes to officers of the court, a mistaken notion is that defense lawyers are for you, prosecutors are against you, and judges are neutral. They are all of the same class and support the system, whether they are Republican or Democrat, and the greater number of them is conservative.

Therefore, they are unavoidably politically biased, but not necessarily with malice. They are against crime, as they should be. They are also against all images stereotyped as criminal, and they shouldn’t be.

So when a youngster goes on trial and fits the stereotypical image of a thug, then nobody in that courtroom wants to see him go free. Not even his lawyer.

In the event that it’s a capital murder case, the lawyer works to get a life sentence rather than the death penalty. And sometimes they don’t even do that. They miss filing deadlines or fail to preserve their client’s right, which in effect amounts to killing the client themselves.

Again, this is something that could never happen to a person of clout and station in this country. For this reason, this particular rule of law is a loophole for the rich and a noose for the poor.

So, come November 8, barring a miracle, another poor man from the working class will be hanged in Texas.