This blog brings us to the historical town of Shreveport, located in Caddo County, Louisiana. It has a history of brothels and dance halls, as well as, a rich source of jazz and ragtime music. The famous musician of the 60s, Sam Cooke, made Shreveport infamous during the Civil Rights Movement when his “band tried to register in a “whites-only” Holiday Inn in Shreveport.” That incident spurred Sam Cooke to compose the civil rights song,” A Change is Gonna Come; a testament to all our racially charged history. Of course, Shreveport is located in the Deep South, also known as the Bible Belt. These elements are a focal part of this blog regarding the death penalty in Caddo County, LA., and the question whether the death penalty, in general, is racially biased or something worse?
However, the core of this narrative is a review of one person, Mr. Dale Cox acting district attorney and his pivotal stance on the death penalty. Formerly, his beliefs were aligned with God and his Catholic upbringing that made him a staunch opponent of the death penalty. Then he switched. He became a strong proponent for the death penalty. Mr. Dale Cox now believes capital punishment is about revenge and the “state needs to “’kill more people.”’ Further, he states “retribution is a valid societal interest.” What made him switch so dramatically?
Let’s step into his shoes as a prosecutor in Shreveport, so we may understand how and why his position changed, or maybe it hasn’t changed. First, a former prosecutor, Ross Owen in Caddo County stated, that “defendants in most of capital cases are poor and black in a part of the state with a deep history of racism.” Does this matter in a death penalty conviction? The Supreme Court Justice, Stephen G. Breyer confirms this fact in a recent landmark ruling. He said that geography has “arbitrariness in application.” Precisely. The Justice states, “geography can determine whether someone convicted of murder would be sentenced to death.” Shouldn’t this be a major disqualifier regarding death penalty sentences in Caddo County, and perhaps elsewhere?
Not so, says Mr. Cox as he stands behind his outrageous statements regarding retribution, killing and the death penalty. He complains that despite the reduction of murders, Caddo County has seen an “increase in savagery.” Further, “the nature of crimes had become more depraved and that it demanded a different approach.” Does this fact justify his aggressiveness? He cites a recent conviction of a man who smothered his infant son. Mr. Cox said, he “deserves as much physical suffering as it is humanly possible to endure before he dies.”
For Profit Prison System
Robert J Smith, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, who provided part of the judge’s dissent supports this theory of geographic disparity. Others feel this prevailing condition for the death penalty may also be “personality-driven” by an errant DA. However, according to Cindy Chang, writer for the Times-Picayune (May 13, 2013), “Louisiana is the world’s prison capital.” In fact, she writes, “Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly five times Iran’s, 13 times China’s and 20 times Germany’s. That’s unbelievable! Does this change the dialog about Mr. Cox’s tough retribution on murder, and does it reflect his personal bias, or is Louisiana’s prison ranking skewing his position? After all, he is just doing his job, isn’t he?
A few more facts about Louisianan’s prison system per Ms. Chang. Most of Louisiana’s prisons are for-profit, which means they must “be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt. In fact, she reports, “A good portion of Louisiana law enforcement is financed with dollars legally skimmed off the top of prison operations.” What kind of fair and just sentencing would anyone get in Louisiana under these conditions, or even justice at the mercy of any district attorney in that state, who just may be feeding the coffers with human beings? Yes, this is happening in the United States!