When I first learned that rapper Christopher “Cool C” Roney was set to die by lethal injection on (ironically) March 9, 2006, I was shocked and saddened. Like most Hip-Hoppers, I knew exactly who Cool C was and growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, I was quite familiar with his music. Even at 24 years old, I can still remember hearing the echoes of “Ooh, Ooh!” throughout my family’s apartment as my older brothers played “The Glamorous Life” before they went to a Friday night house party.
That jam still gets me on the dance floor to this day, but i think it is doubtful that Cool C will never perform that hit or even record again. He is currently on death row in a Pennsylvania correction facility for robbery and first-degree murder, which could make him the first rapper to ever be executed in history. Innocent or guilty, I don’t believe Christopher “Cool C” Roney should be executed as punishment for his crime, simply because I oppose the death penalty. The death penalty is an ineffective crime deterrent and have never proven successful in lowering crime or preventing crime. Therefore it should be banned. It does nothing but justify the same senseless murder that puts men and women on death row in the first place.
Pennsylvania has a long history with supporting the death penalty, which can be helpful in understanding how severe and unfair the death penalty truly is. According to reports, execution, as a form of punishment, in Pennsylvania dates back to the late 1600s, when public hanging was capital punishment for crime ranging from rape and burglary to “buggery”(in Pennsylvania at that time, “buggery” referred to sex with animals). Later in 1793, William Bradford, Attorney General of Pennsylvania published “An Enquiry How Far the Punishment of Death is Necessary in Pennsylvania.” In this document, he declared the death penalty was useless in preventing certain crimes, despite strongly insisting that it should be retained.
In the year 1794, the Pennsylvania legislature abolished capital punishment for all crimes except murder “in the first degree”, making this the first time in history murder had been broken down into degrees. This was done in response to Bradford’s stance on capital punishment. After centuries of executing criminals, the death penalty was later declared unconstitutional by PA State Supreme Court in 1972. As a result the two dozen death cases in the Pennsylvania prison system were sentenced to life instead of being executed. The law resurged for a while in 1974 until PA Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional again. A new version was quickly created, which went into effect in 1978 and still remains in effect today. The crime punishable by capital punishment in Pennsylvania is first-degree murder, or premeditated murder.
As you can see, the PA state legislature’s love affair with the death penalty has been a long one. Judging by history, PA legislature has never had substantial proof that the death penalty deters murder but they continue to make certain that the law exists.
After I thought about Cool C’s execution I became confused and disappointed. Confused, because I thought C, along with partner-in-rhyme Steady B, was serving a life sentence without parole, therefore ineligible to be executed. Disappointed because I already know too many brothers and sisters serving life sentences who experience the perils of jail life everyday. I felt like it was bad enough C had committed a crime and was serving time but now he would die in a place that many liken to “hell on earth.” Unlike most people assume, jail/prison is not a resort. Many outsiders, most of whom who have never visited an incarcerated individual or a jail itself, think prisons are adult playgrounds for criminals because they can attend school, wear the latest sneakers and watch BET.
However, that could not be farther from the truth. In jail, prisoners face violence, rape, racism, mental stress and many other daily dilemma in a confined environment they cannot escape. The risk of death is omnipresent and a life can sometimes be taken over a pack of cigarettes or even much less. Jail is not even the hardcore yet glamorized environment you see on HBO shows such as The Wire or Oz, where the theory is that if one possesses brute strength coupled with cunning intelligence they can survive in “the joint.” Toughness and wit aside, no one wants to go to jail. And for those who say, “I’ve got a good lawyer; I can fight the case”, I sure hope so. In the state of PA, which has the second-highest rate death row minority rate (second to Louisiana), 90 percent of the state’s condemned are unable to afford an attorney. And you can forget an appeal, kids, because the state of PA does not provide funding for indigent defendants.
This is a lose-lose situation in Pennsylvania, where if you a wrongly convicted of first-degree murder and cannot afford a lawyer, you have basically signed your life away without a chance to fight your case. Also, considering the fact that Blacks represent the largest percentage on death row nationwide, one cannot help but feel this insistence of maintaining capital punishment by legislators is deliberate towards the genocide of minorities in America.
And Cool C, if granted clemency, (the state of Pennsylvania has never granted one person clemency in its history of administering capital punishment), will have to live with the fact that he will never see his family or children besides when they attend a supervised visit nor will he ever enjoy the everyday things (driving to the mall, wearing his own clothes, living in his own home) that so many of us take for granted. In short, his freedom to live as a human being will be taken in exchange for the victim’s life taken during the robbery he was convicted of committing. Having one’s freedom (whatever your definition of freedom may be) taken away is essentially killing a person because you kill their spirit which embodies a person’s will to physically live. In my opinion, that is punishment enough. This is why I believe a life sentence in jail suffices as punishment for murder, not death by execution of any sort.
By now you’ve probably realized I oppose the death penalty as punishment for crime. That is true, but it does not mean I am an advocate for crime, especially not murder. Crime has and will always occur in this world, we cannot change that. However, when the punishment for a crime is not only ineffective in preventing it, as well as being unethical, when will we stop ignoring the facts and take action to stop this behavior?
My heart goes out to both the families of Cool C and Officer Lauretha Vaird (R.I.P.), who have both suffered tremendous loss. But despite all that has occurred, an “eye for an eye” is will not resurrect an innocent life or lower the murder rate. Let’s work at finding a real solution instead of putting a “temporary band-aid” on the ugly sore we call the murder rate in America, without losing lives in the process.
**Those interested in donating time or resources to Central Pennsylvanians to Abolish the Death Penalty, please visit http://www.cpadp.org/index.html.