Bryan Stephenson on Charlestown and Race

CJ: Does that mean Dylan Roof should not get the death penalty?

BS: I don’t think anybody should get the death penalty. I’m against the death penalty. Not because I believe people don’t deserve to die for the crimes that they commit. I think that we don’t deserve to kill. The system of justice in South Carolina is not going to be better or more racially just based on whether this kid gets executed or not. If I were the governor of South Carolina, I’d say: “We’re going to abolish the death penalty, because we have a history of lynching and terror that has demonized and burdened people of color in this state since we’ve became a state. I’m not gonna end the death penalty because there are innocent people on death row, I’m not gonna end the death penalty because I think it’s unreliable or it’s too expensive, I’m gonna end it because in South Carolina, we have a history of bias and terror and violence and segregation, and the death penalty has been a tool for sustaining that, and I’m gonna say we’re not gonna have that.” And most African Americans in South Carolina would celebrate that. That actually would be the first time somebody has done something responsive to this history of racial hierarchy and bigotry. And I think every southern governor should do the same. That’s when you’d get the different conversations starting in this country. Then you might get some progress.

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