The Noose to Needle Project launched on March 29. A virtual panel discussion titled, “Noose to Needle: How Slavery, Lynching, and Racial Terror Birthed the Modern-Day Death Penalty,” was part of the project’s official launch.

Spearheaded by attorney and advocate Furonda Brasfield, the new project seeks to demonstrate the historical connections between lynching and the current administration of the death penalty.

Furonda Brasfield

“I’m going to start with something that we all know. The death penalty is racist. Every fact, figure, and statistic points to that reality,” Furonda Brasfield, director of leadership development at 8th amendment and project director for the Noose to Needle Project, said in her opening remarks.

“The death penalty is also a direct descendent of slavery and racial terror lynchings that has been perpetrated against African Americans since our arrival in the United States of America. Fueled by the myths of racial difference and white supremacy, the torture and murder of Black people has historically been overlooked, sanctioned and assisted by all levels of United States and state governments,” Brasfield continued, while pointing to the U.S. Constitution, and specifically the Three-Fifths Compromise, as evidence.

After Brasfield made a case for why she believes “the death penalty will always be racist,” she invited each panelist to share how they came to the work and what they bring to the conversation.

Cherrell Brown

“I came to this work maybe 15 years ago out of loss. I had a cousin who was killed by police,” Cherrell Brown, a community organizer with DonkeySaddle Projects and a social justice educator, said. Consequently, Brown believes in “the gospel of abolition” and is no longer interested in police reform.

She then shared the historical origins of policing beginning in Europe, arguing that policing was not developed for the everyday individual but to protect the property of the rich and for the quelling of uprising. Brown also made correlations between America’s sordid past and present-day policing.

Ngozi Ndulue

“We must deal with policing and the way that it is affecting the entire legal system,” Ngozi Ndulue, the Innocence Project’s special advisor on race and wrongful conviction, said. She argued that people cannot talk about the death penalty without talking about how it has been used in the past.

Cece Jones-Davis, a speaker and advocate working at the intersection of faith and social justice, came to the work after learning about the case of Julius Jones. She now leads the Justice for Julius Jones campaign and stated: “We have a bloodthirst problem in this country. There is something wrong with the soul of this country … when we demand the blood of innocent people.”

Cece Jones-Davis

The history of racism in the U.S. gives us context, Davis explained. She believes that there is not much difference between the past and the present.

When asked about mobilizing faith leaders in the campaign, Davis described mobilizing evangelicals as “difficult.” “Some people hold very fast to ‘an eye for an eye,’” she said.

Bria Nelson saw herself as “someone who was just upset with the system” and who “felt powerless and wanted to reclaim that power.”

Bria Nelson

She reclaims that power as a legal fellow at the ACLU of Kansas where they assist with litigation on the constitutionality of Kansas’ death penalty. The group put the death penalty on trial in Kansas, challenged its constitutionality, traced its history to the state’s inception and linked it to racialized violence.

During a question-and-answer time with the audience, Ndulue offered a commission. “There is a story to tell,” she said, encouraging participants to learn the stories of racial injustice in their states and cities as part of the work for broader change.

“We have a lot of work to do in this country and with the literal whitewashing of history, it is incumbent upon us to use our voices to uplift these issues of justice — not only justice but racial justice,” Brasfield said in closing.

For more information on the Noose to Needle Project, click here.

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