The NAACP issued a travel advisory for the state of Missouri after witnessing persistent assaults on freedoms promised by the U.S Constitution for all Americans — black, white and brown. Life, liberty, and the freedom to travel without harassment should be a given no matter one’s skin color. And yet Missouri and the nation are standing on a precipice.
Our collective history is stained with blood and indifference: Charlottesville, Va., Ferguson, Mo. and the recent taser-fed death of an African-American motorist who made a wrong turn into our state and had the audacity to ask a police officer for help when he ran out of gas — all of which have raised the alarms. The national NAACP shares our anxiety and concern that black individuals enjoying our highways, roads, points of interest and cities may not be safe. The travel advisory provides a signpost to alert our community to the dangers at hand: The state is concerned that your health and your very life are at risk in Missouri. NAACP units across the state are holding rallies to share the advisory with their communities.
A concrete example of that reality is set to take place on August 22, when the state of Missouri is scheduled to execute an African-American man. Marcellus Williams was convicted under St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s direction. This is the same prosecutor who failed to indict the officer involved in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Williams was accused of killing Lisha Gayle, a white reporter who died in 1998. No physical evidence ties him to the crime scene. DNA collected at the site of the crime does not match his.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Missouri declined to review yet another lab report providing a thorough analysis of the DNA found on the knife used to fatally stab Gayle. The Court did not provide a reason for refusing to review this new scientifically-backed evidence.
African-Americans are overrepresented on Missouri’s death row and they often suffer from prosecutorial tactics that result in all-white juries or the systemic elimination of the majority of their peers. In Williams’ case, six of the seven potential black jurors were eliminated by the prosecutor in his trial; one reason cited by the prosecutor was that a prospective juror’s appearance was too similar to Williams’.
Missouri’s approach to capital punishment is the linchpin of a system that fails to accord value and respect for black lives. We see it in the courtroom, in jails, at traffic stops, in the world of employment and in places of public accommodation. It is no wonder we hear of people who do not feel safe living in or even traveling to a state which gives out punishment on the basis of skin color. Why do homicides involving white female victims result in capital sentences 14 times more often than those involving black male victims?
Such racial disparities in the criminal justice system extend well beyond Missouri and such racial tension extends well beyond the criminal justice system. What occurred last weekend in Charlottesville, Va. is just one recent example of the constantly rising temperature between white people and those of color, between people of different faiths, between people of different backgrounds and outward appearances.
We seek fundamental change, but we recognize that revolutions begin with individual instances of justice. We ask that Gov. Eric Greitens stop the execution of Williams, acknowledging the value of our lives and the importance of creating institutions that support the fair and even application of the laws to all citizens. Let us begin a meaningful conversation on making Missouri — and our nation — safe.
If you, too, believe that Marcellus Williams should be spared from execution on Tuesday, you can support efforts to save him by signing this petition on Change.org.
Nimrod Chapel, Jr. is president of Missouri state conference of the NAACP.