Rebecca Solnit’s Easy Chair piece from the March 2016 issue of Harper’s discusses Jarvis Masters, who is on death row in San Quentin prison, with all the standard American tropes about how poverty and race disadvantage people in that country, and to read the facts about the case is to make you lose all faith in the justice system of California. If even half of the data Solnit reveals is true regarding Master’s conviction for sharpening a weapon that was used to kill a guard – that’s right, the state doesn’t even allege that he performed the murder – is true, then Masters is clearly innocent, and you’d have to be an idiot not to believe it. Jarvis was acknowledged to be in another part of the prison at the time of the crime, and while the man who ordered the killing, along with the man who performed it, are both known, and convicted, only Masters is on death row. In February 2016, the California Supreme Court affirmed Masters’s conviction. It’s unbelievable that a justice system can be so broken, that the people behind it – and let’s never forget that all our institutions, whether they be the government, corporations, or the courts, are operated by people – can be so full of pride and recalcitrance not only to fail to take steps to undo this wrong, but to drag out its resolution for literally decades.
I tell my kids when they get into trouble that the best thing they can do is own up, and apologize. It’s something I do myself, with them. Harmony is immediately restored when we do this, and we can move on. But in California, a man is on death row, that is, slated to be murdered by the state, for something he clearly didn’t do. And even if he did do what is alleged, that is, sharpened a weapon that another man used, who received a lesser sentence, at the orders of another man, who also received a lesser sentence, even if in some primitive, backwards way you believe in the death penalty, you would be insane to expect to be applied in this case.
How can I teach my children to behave nobly when an entire justice system, created and run by highly-educated people who are entrusted with tremendous power, does not?
Fix it, California. Admit your mistake, and free this man.