From Death Row:
Prison Writings of Kevin Cooper
If all goes according to plan, Kevin Cooper will be executed by the state of California on February 10th. Cooper's fate comes despite strong evidence that points to his innocence. Further procedures that could also aid his case (such as investigation into police tampering with DNA) are also being denied.
Like political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, Cooper has maintained a defiant voice throughout his stay on death row, keeping up a constant stream of writings infused with a focused fury over the injustice being done to him- an injustice that is related to and symbolic of the broader ones in our society, as he'll be the first to tell you. Here we reprint several of his writings, and we encourage you to read more of them, and more about his case, at http://www.savekevincooper.org/. You can also find out about actions to take in the last efforts to stop his execution.
Look for future articles on Left Hook concerning the prison-industrial complex.
- Derek Seidman
This is Not My Execution
& I Will Not Claim it
by Kevin Cooper
I, Kevin Cooper, am writing this from death row at San Quentin Prison. I am scheduled to be the next Black man executed by the state of California on February 10th, 2004.
While I am an innocent man about to be murdered by this state, I realize that innocence makes no difference to the people who control the criminal justice system, including this prison. This is the same system that has historically and systematically executed men, women and children who look just like me, if only because they can.
While it is my life that will be taken, and my body filled with poison, I will not say that this is my execution! That's because it is not, it is just a continuation of the historic system of capital punishment that all poor people all over this world have been and are subjected to.
To personalize this crime against humanity as "my execution" would be to ignore the universal plight, struggle and murder of poor people all over this planet we call Earth. This I cannot and will not do!
I will be murdered by the state with my understanding that this crime of evil is something that happens to men like me in this country. Especially when we are convicted (wrongfully, in my situation) of killing white people!
If I must be murdered by the state, then I will do so with my dignity in tact. This guilt that the criminal justice system has put on me will be questioned by anyone and everyone who finds out the whole truth of this case.
From Death Row
At San Quentin Prison
"Innocence Makes No Difference"
by Kevin Cooper
I Kevin Cooper who is currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison in the state of California for murders which I did not commit, but was convicted of have come to realize this very real truth.
When it comes to dealing with the government, including the state and federal court system, Innocence makes no difference, finality does!
The only thing that seems to make a difference is "winning at any cost". Innocence in and of itself has never stopped this government in any way from murdering innocent people, imprisoning innocent people, executing innocent people, or in the case of war, dropping bombs on innocent people.
The only true measuring stick that we have to use or go by is this countries history of dealing with innocent people when it comes to certain governmental policies.
The human beings who make up the government of the United States, all who claim to be better than the people who they murder, execute, imprison, and declare war on. Most of who have prejudices of all kinds, racism, classism, homophobia, sexism, and all the rest the certain self-righteous human beings have, but won't admit to, only have one agenda.
Winning, and winning by any means necessary. Especially when you look at the very real fact that this country was founded on killing innocent people, the native peoples of this country, including Mexicans who owned California. It was built on enslaving and killing innocent peoples, the Africans and their decedents, and all other poor people who were forced to work as indentured servants/sharecroppers.
During every war that this country has been involved in, innocent people have been affected, either by being killed, or by being scapegoated. The best example of this is what happened to the Japanese Americans in World War II, the government put them in internment camps.
The criminal justice system has this same mindset, and has often worked hand in hand with other government departments in imposing the will of the old boys network.
The United States Supreme Court has stated in its 1993 U.S. Supreme Court Herrera decision in which Chief Justice Renquist ruled, "In criminal cases the state trial is the paramount event for determining the defendant's guilt or innocence".
Federal courts do not sit to correct errors of fact, but to ensure that individuals are not imprisoned in violation of the U.S. constitution.
So even though an innocent person may be imprisoned or on death row facing an execution, if they can't show or prove a violation of their U.S. constitutional rights, they will stay imprisoned, or be executed.
This should tell everyone that innocence makes no difference when it comes to the U.S. government or the criminal justice system, which is supposed to be different from each other, but really isn't. This mindset however is not just used on or against human beings, it also includes Mother Earth herself.
From the birds and the air in which they fly, to the animals, plants, insects, trees and ground in which they live on or grow out of, this mind set of destroying innocent life is affected.
The water and all life that lives in the water is also included in this, because these people honestly believe that they own all of these things, and have the god given right to rule over it, or destroy it.
Whenever you have a certain group of people, or a system which has been built by a certain group of people, which was built and maintained upon the killing of innocent peoples.
No one today can be surprised that innocence makes no difference to that select group of people who make and enforce the laws in this country.
The police very often in the ghettos and poor communities of this country shoot and kill innocent people, and get away with it. The military knows for a fact that they will kill innocent people in their military campaigns, yet that doesn't stop them, and they get away with it.
Why do they get away with it? Because this government has laid the foundation for killing innocent people in its history of this country.
During this one sided air war in Afghanistan, whenever innocent people are bombed and it has been proved that they were bombed and killed. This government including the President say…We regret the loss of innocent life, "But" this is a consequence of war! It does not have to be this way, but it is, and it will stay this way as long as innocence makes no difference.
The sanctions that this country placed on Iraq do not effect its leaders, especially Sadam Hussein, and this government knows this. The only people who are truly affected by those sanctions are the innocent men, women, and children. They are dying from hunger, lack of medical care, and every other preventable thing that they should not be dying from. Yet this government doesn't care because innocence makes no difference when it comes to this government's policies, either foreign or domestic.
Whenever you have a system which knowingly and willingly puts innocent human beings lives at risk, one must question this system and the people who run this system. Everyone who is involved in this death penalty system knows that innocent people have been executed. Yet this is not enough to stop this system as a whole in this country. This system, such as all systems are controlled by humans, and humans make mistakes.
Institutional racism is a very real and proven fact of life in this country, yet the people of inside of these institutions refuse to acknowledge these truths. In fact it honestly appears that they don't give a damn about these truths.
All they seem to care about is their own agenda which in the majority of cases doesn't include us poor people, and people of color. It most often excludes us, and to this degree they want to exclude us from living.
In many cases in order to do this they have to break their own laws, or ignore them, while at the same time making new laws which they use to enforce their will. In doing this the price for some of us is our innocence makes no difference.
In struggle from death row,
By Kevin Cooper
One day in 1991, I was out in the yard playing basketball when an officer called my name and told me that I was wanted inside. When I asked him what I was wanted for, he just turned and walked away. After being handcuffed behind my back, I was taken from the yard to inside the unit, where I was placed in a holding cell, where I was then uncuffed and told to wait.
In the six years that I had been in this prison, I had never felt more alive than while sitting in that holding cell, soaking wet with sweat. I could feel only my heart pounding in my chest, and my blood running in my veins. I could hear my breathing, and taste my sweat.
I couldn't wait to get back outside to finish playing basketball. Basketball not only kept me in great physical shape, but it was also a way for me to escape from this prison environment for a couple of hours every day.
While in the holding cell, I was approached by a man wearing a suit and tie, not a uniform like the officers who work in the unit wear. The man asked me my name and number, and I told him Cooper C-65304. He then told me that I, Kevin Cooper C-65304, had been given an execution date.
Before I had a chance to take in what he had just said to me, he pushed a piece of paper into the holding cell and told me to read the paper along with him. As I looked at this perfectly typed paper, he started reading.
My mind went totally blank and I did not hear one word that he said. I just stared at this paper that was my death warrant. Finally, when his voice did start to penetrate my mind, I caught these words:
"You, Kevin Cooper, must choose your method of execution. You can choose between lethal gas or lethal injection, but you have to choose, because if you don't choose between one or the other, we the State of California will choose for you, and we will choose lethal gas-the gas chamber."
I, who minutes before was so full of life and who had just been playing basketball outside under the clear blue sky, was now having to decide my own death, and it happened just that fast.
After I had regrouped and gathered myself, I chose lethal injection, and I marked my choice on the paper he read from, signed my name to it, returned the paper to him, and he took it and left.
Up until this point in time I had been trying to make some kind of life for myself while on death row, and even though I knew that I was sent here to be executed I had not thought that I would be. I, like so many other people who are on death row, sometimes forget why I was sent here, and it takes a wake up call like I had just received to put everything back into its proper context.
In 1985, when I first came to San Quentin's death row, I can honestly say that I truly didn't give a damn if I was executed or not, because I was so full of rage, anger, hatred, pain, and frustration after being wrongly convicted of murders and sentenced to death.
When I came to this prison and saw first hand the filth, the violence, the hopelessness, the gang wars, and the prison brutality, and all the other negative things that went on in this place, I knew that I was now in a world where I had never been before, and if I was going to survive in this living hell I was going to have to make some real changes in my life.
Though at that point in time I didn't care about being executed, I did care enough about myself to know that I had to do something in a positive manner in order to live in such a negative place.
If I had gotten involved in negative things, then not only would I put my life in danger, I would also give in to this system that wanted to kill me. Being killed by the state is one thing, but being killed by another inmate is something else altogether. I knew who my fight was with, and just as importantly who it wasn't with.
I decided that I did not want to get caught up in prison politics, or prison gangs or games. After doing a great deal of soul-searching about myself, my life, and my situation, while all the time learning more and more about this prison, and the people who were in it, I knew that if I didn't change myself for the better, I would surely die a violent death in here.
Over a period of two years, I started to change from the angry man that I was into the person that I am today. I knew that education was going to be the key to any hope that I had to better myself, so I started to educate myself. I changed this cell into my classroom and learning center, and in doing so I was able to avoid many of the traps that many men in here find themselves in.
For my first six years in this prison I basically read everything that I could get my hands on, especially books concerning my African American culture and heritage, history, and people. I called this my journey of self-discovery, and this enabled me not only to find out about all the things that I didn't know or wasn't taught about in school, it also kept me from getting bored, as well as out of trouble.
For the first time in my life I began to feel a real sense of self concerning who I am as an African American man.
The more I read, the more I wanted to read. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. The more I bettered myself, the more l wanted to better myself. But it wasn't until 1991, when I received my first of four execution dates, that I truly understood the reality of my situation.
Though I had read many books or papers about the death penalty, it was not the same, nor did it have the same effect on me as receiving a personal execution date did.
Once I began to truly understand and come to terms with my situation on a personal basis, I began to understand it on an historical basis. Shortly after this I wrote my very first article, "A Plea to the Black Community."
I wrote it from my heart. I did this because every time I would look at an anti-death penalty demonstration I saw very few or no African American people there, which hurt me deeply. After learning all that I had about my people and our struggle in this country to survive, I had found out that we African Americans have historically been some of the most executed people who have ever walked this land.
I had been through many different transformations in my years in prison, and that includes everything from cultural to spiritual, from emotional to intellectual, and all the rest that a person goes through when they are on a quest for knowledge.
Doors began to open to other topics just as soon as I would finish one, and I continued to walk through these doors then, just as I do now. I also had a lot of help from many different people. There are men in here who helped me by giving me books to read after they found out that I was for real about educating myself. I also received help from friends and family who would often pay for and have books or other reading materials sent into this prison for me.
I guess the bottom-line is this: we all have to make real life decisions at one time or another in our lives. I decided to live, and not die just because I was sentenced to die. Because if I did not make the decision to live, I would be making the decision to die-a decision that I, as an innocent man, could not do.
In hindsight this seems so easy, but in fact the decision to live and make a life for myself in this living hell that I am in was the hardest decision that I ever had to make in my life. But it is a decision that I am truly happy that I made, because in doing so I have become a much better person.
I am an activist and an abolitionist, and my work speaks to this. I know that the death penalty is not only about me, Kevin Cooper, but is much, much bigger. In my mind and through my eyes this is about a system that has historically and systematically executed men, women, and children, who look just like me, whether from the standpoint of the color of their skin, or from the standpoint of their class and background.
I am a part of the machine that we are building to put an end to this crime against humanity that this government uses. I am no more, and no less, than that.
Scapegoat: "One who bears the blame for mistakes of others"
by Kevin Cooper, San Quentin State Prison
Who of you is going into the year, the New Year, as a "Scapegoat"? Or as a victim? I don't mean a victim of crime, but a victim of other people's negativity or other people's mistakes: A Scapegoat.
America is the only country in the world where being homeless is a crime. For the most part, those that are homeless are homeless because of the mistakes of others in one way or another. Very few are homeless because of themselves, yet they are blamed for being homeless. They are in a large part the "Scapegoats of Society"! Of Politicians and of ignorance.
As great as this country is, it will never be as great as it can become because of the scapegoating that goes on at every level of life in this country. This country called the United States is not United, and may never be United because of the scapegoating that goes on. This is not a colorblind society, it's a color rich society, but whenever you stand up and say "Hey, I'm not like you, I'm this, or I'm that", you are automatically called militant, or anti-social, or anti-white, or anything else that they wish to label you. But they won't call you what it is you want to be called, what you really are! Instead they blame you; they make you their scapegoat by saying it's your fault that you're not like them!
Being a scapegoat can cover every part of life from A to Z. I have even seen it, and experienced it, here on Death Row, where humans are living a very basic life and dealing with each other on a very basic level of life. Certain, people are always looking to blame, or scapegoat, other people, even in a game of basketball, where as long as you do good no one says anything to you, nothing positive or anything to let you know that you are playing good ball. But mess up, make a mistake, make a bad pass, or anything that they can look at as a mistake, and you are in trouble. You are yelled at, called names, talked to like you are stupid, and all the rest that can go with it. You are made their scapegoat. But when these same people mess up, make a mistake, or a bad pass, it's alright!!
Not only do I see it in here, I feel it in my heart as I sit here on Death Row an innocent man. I was blamed for the mistakes of others, and now I stand a scapegoat of society. A scapegoat of a country that is looking for, searching for, and making it easier for the State to kill people legally through executions. In this country you don't even have to kill someone to find yourself on Death Row waiting to be killed.
Once you become a scapegoat, whether it be by a person or a society, your life will never be the same. This country was built, among other things, by the scapegoating of others, and a great deal of people who are in power have used other people as scapegoats in order to fulfill their own agendas. Just look at Pete Wilson and his attack on affirmative action, or his fight for Prop. 187.
This way of life in America call "Scapegoating" reaches from the church to the State, from North to South, from East to West, from Republican to Democrat, from rich to poor, and the thing that gets me is that no one talks about it. "It just is"! The rich blame the poor for being poor and for all the ills in this country, but if the rich shared their wealth, then maybe there wouldn't be so many poor. But you can't tell them that; they would rather blame the poor that help the poor.
Racists blame the Blacks, and Latinos, or anyone else of color, for crime and drugs, and all the other negative things that go on in this country, despite the fact that it has been proven time and time again that the biggest criminals, the biggest users o f drugs in this country, are not Black or Latino. Still they are blamed, they are scapegoated. As for Politicians, they scapegoat whoever is the most unpopular at the time in order to win elections, because here in America there is always a group of people who are easily made into scapegoats. It doesn't matter who you are, or where you live or how much you have, or don't have, you can be a scapegoat by just being who you are, or how you were born. And none of us ask to be born!
Did those women that ex-Senator Packwood sexually harassed ask to be born? Did they ask to be harassed? Did they ask to be mentally and emotionally abused? Hell No! But they were, and still would be if they hadn't decided to put an end to it once and for all. Senator Packwood made those women his scapegoats on every level he could. He even said that it was his Christian duty to make love to these women, and then when he was busted he tried as hard as he could to blame them for his mistakes.
On those few occasions that people like Packwood are busted for doing wrong, what do they do? They still blame others and won't take responsibility for their own actions, or they say "No comment", or "I'll get back to you", but they never do. The bottom line is, what can they really say? It is rare in this country for people to take responsibility for their actions; it's too easy to blame others. They won't start doing it until you make them, just as those women made Packwood take responsibility for his actions. Not only did they do that, but they made him resign as well, but the most important thing that they did was stop being his victim, his scapegoat! They fought back, and won, and they found out that they could only be a victim, a scapegoat, to him as long as they let themselves stay in that position.
Only you can stop yourself from being someone else's victim, or scapegoat. You must take a stand, and you must understand that once you take that stand, your life, and outlook on yourself, will be forever better.
Why do you think the Million Man March was such a great idea and success? It was because those Million Black Men were tired of being the scapegoat for a larger society. They took a stand that day. A lot of us took a stand that day. Brothers like me who couldn't go physically, went spiritually, because we were and are also tired. If you get nothing else out of this article, please understand that only you can stop yourself from becoming, and remaining someone else's scapegoat, or victim, or doormat. If you leave it up to the others, things will never change. They won't like you for doing it, for standing up for yourself, but do you really want to be liked by the very people who put you down? I'd rather be unliked and happy, proud, and self respected, than be liked, put down, and scapegoated upon!!
If you would like to communicate more on this or any other issue please write:
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974