Students must help bring justice to Rodney Reed

Neelesh Rathi

"Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

The due process clause of the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution was intended to ensure that after the Civil War, the rights of African Americans wouldn't be trampled by racist state governments, especially in the South.

Seems Texas never got the memo — or maybe just never read it. Because Texas, like this entire country, has a long, post-Civil War tradition of executing African Americans in disproportionately high numbers — including via mob rule and vigilante violence, the antithesis of due process.

And now Texas courts have condemned Rodney Reed to death on Nov. 20 — the state’s latest lynching. We have to show Texas’ government that it can’t overrule justice.

The saying goes that truth is stranger than fiction, but in this case, Texas’ truth is just as detestably racist as the court in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Anyone who has read it knows Tom Robinson’s story: black man is accused of raping a white woman, all-white jury convicts black man on shoddy evidence, black man gets lynched.

Lee based her book on the real case of Walter Lett: accused of raping a white woman, tried with unconvincing evidence, convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to death.

That was 1934, the height of Jim Crow. History is repeating itself in 2019.

At each stage, Reed’s case mirrors Lett’s: accused of raping (and murdering) a white woman (Stacey Stites), tried with unconvincing (and since-disproven) evidence, convictd by an all-white jury (in Bastrop), and sentenced to death — despite mountains of exonerating evidence — by a system that cares very little for black life.

More than once, Sandra Reed, Rodney Reed’s mother, has criticized the “Jim Crow trial” that convicted her son with “an all-white jury.”

“Oftentimes lynchings were carried out extrajudicially, but we’re finding that even though people on death row are given trials, they aren’t really fair; such was the case for Rodney,” Zoë Marshall, a UT Amnesty International officer and history senior, said in a direct message.

According to Marshall, the gendered racism that led to Lett’s death sentence isn’t gone.

“Rodney specifically was charged with raping and murdering a white woman, and that’s beyond racially charged with the anxieties over miscegenation and racial purity that still prevail in the American South,” Marshall said. “So if you take all that, the justice system doesn’t look as fair … it replicates the same kind of violence we saw — and still see — outside of the courts.”

This is the ritual of Jim Crow’s white supremacist machine that intends to murder Rodney Reed on Nov. 20.

The deck is stacked against him — the penal system has been rigged for centuries, and capital punishment disproportionately punishes communities of color. So sign petitions and tweet #RodneyReed and #Justice4Rodney to demand his exoneration. But as much as this will help, it’s going to take more.

Physically showing up is a good start — attend the massive rally on Saturday. Even without saying or doing anything, just being there is powerful. But if you want to do more, the work of direct action has always been there — organize, protest, hold vigils, call and write letters to lawmakers, support Reed’s family, research the case and inform others — because this is not a new fight.

This is how Lett’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison — the town’s residents petitioned the governor.

This is the Civil Rights–Black Power Movement. This is how they sought justice in life and in court.

They knew that the criminal legal system can never be a criminal justice system until all of its parts, including due process, always function justly.

They knew they’d have to fight to abolish lynch law.

Lett died while serving his sentence three years after he was convicted; Rodney Reed has been waiting to die in prison for the last 21 years.

History is repeating itself. Reed can’t wait any longer.

We cannot, and will not, allow this government to lynch another black person. If it denies us justice, we deny it peace. 

No justice, no peace!

Rathi is a Black Studies senior from Austin.