After collaborating with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. and Jesse Jackson, Jr. on a recent book “Legal Lynching,” Bruce Shapiro, a political analyst and investigative reporter, discussed the United States justice system at a Davenport College Master’s Tea Tuesday.
Shapiro, who has taught classes at Yale, said while the death penalty is biased and ineffective, the American political system has begun to correct its past mistakes.
While the three authors each brought different viewpoints on the subject, Shapiro said they all agreed on one thing.
“‘Legal Lynching’ is meant to invoke a sense of the justice system gone awry,” he said.
Shapiro, who is also a contributing editor at The Nation magazine, said there has been much debate about the legitimacy of the death penalty over the course of American history.
“This is not something that was cooked up by 1960s liberals, which is how it’s been portrayed,” he said. “Nearly every state, with the exception of Texas, has engaged in huge debate and has gone back and forth over decades.”
Shapiro, who was stabbed in New Haven in 1994, said he also tried to look at how the death penalty addressed the needs of murder victims’ families. While the media portrays victims’ families as “thirsty” for vengeance, Shapiro said most victims’ families do not benefit emotionally from having the killers executed.
“There’s a lot of evidence that this does nothing to promote closure,” he said.
Shapiro also decried the bias of capital punishment against minorities and the indigent.
As the documented miscarriages of justice have added up, public sentiment has started to turn against capital punishment, he said.
The most dramatic turn came on Jan. 11, when Illinois Governor George Ryan, once a staunch defender of capital punishment, cleared his state’s death row on his last day in office, Shapiro said.
Ryan had issued a moratorium on the death penalty two years earlier that served as an impetus for the book.
“We decided to write because at that moment — because of Governor Ryan’s moratorium in the winter of 2000 — it was clear that the country was at a turning point,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro said the book targets people who might be affected by the changing politics of the death penalty.
“There had not been an overview of the issue for people who were looking to make up their mind,” he said.
Shapiro said because of recent developments, abolition of the death penalty is “imaginable but not around the corner.”
In attendance at the talk were several students from Shapiro’s “Investigative Journalism” class, which he taught this past fall.
Casey Miner ’05, who took the class, said she was impressed by Shapiro’s talk.
“It was very informative, very passionate — the same caliber as the class,” Minor said.
Anna Kimsey ’05 said she learned about the importance of disseminating information about the death penalty.
“Only through consciousness can we change it,” she said.