From MADP’s Interim Board Chair, Nimrod Chapel Jr.
On Jan. 6, 2021, America’s racial terror violence continued on full display at the nation’s capital, with a noose strung up and hanging from a hastily-erected platform on grounds near the U.S. Capitol.
This was not the only noose on display during the day. Several white supremacist domestic terrorists carried nooses and Confederate flags as they stormed and rioted inside the Capitol. These symbols of racial terror violence and white supremacy are institutionalized in the country’s continued use of capital punishment.
America’s history of public displays of racially-motivated mob violence is foundational going back to slavery, and public executions as a means of punishment happened well into the 1930s. One of the last public executions in the U.S. was on Missouri soil — the hanging of Hurt Hardy Jr. in 1937. Black people’s public hangings did not involve due process and were viewed as celebratory spectacles attended by thousands of white people, including public officials. People would advertise these “events,” sell food, print postcards of mutilated Black lynching victims, and take pieces of the victims’ bodies and clothing as souvenirs. When looking geographically at Missouri’s lynchings, we see that counties with historic racial terror lynchings are more likely to seek death sentences today.
Some of Missouri’s most horrific moments of historic racial terror violence and lynchings occurred in Greene County, where a judge imposed the state’s last death sentence in January 2018. In neighboring Stone County, the Missouri NAACP called for a federal investigation and removal of a replica noose on display near voting booths this past November.
Historically, the noose has been used to discourage Black people from voting under the threat of lynchings. On a day to confirm the American people’s vote late week, the nooses seen at the nation’s Capitol were hung for one purpose: to instill fear and stoke violence toward Black and brown voters in America.
Over the last 30 years, the death penalty has steadily declined in use across the country, and it has already been abolished in 21 states. Those seeking to continue the use of the death penalty are often led by racial bias and discrimination, stereotypes of those with mental illness or intellectual disability, and the belief that death brings justice.
Last July, the federal government resumed federal executions after a 17-year hiatus. Donald Trump became the first lame-duck president to execute someone from federal death row since 1889. Trump has led this execution spree, executing 10 people so far, with plans to execute three more this week: Lisa Montgomery, Cory Johnson and Dustin Higgs. Trump’s federal execution spree is but further evidence of his willingness to stoke fear and violence across the country. The death penalty in America is dying, and racial justice must be the utmost priority for places such as Missouri, where it is not.
We do not live in a post-racial state. We live in a state where overt racism, structural inequality and implicit bias continue through a criminal legal system that allows for murder and calls it justice. On Jan. 6, the nation was given a glimpse of the racial terror we have known in Missouri for decades, where nooses like those found in the Harley Davidson plant in Kansas City intimidate Black workers, and fatal victims of police encounters such as of Tory Sanders, are ignored and stacked with the unsolved cases of hanging Black bodies.
With the U.S. Capitol in the background, a noose hanging in frame, Missouri must do its part by turning away from the same strategy of terror now turned on Congress, but that has always rested on people of color.
Nimrod Chapel Jr. is president of the Missouri NAACP.
View the article published in the Kansas City Star HERE.