Kevin Cooper: I, Too, Am American

Photo by Hédi Benyounes on Unsplash

By Kevin Cooper / Original to ScheerPost

A poem by Langston Hughes-1902-1967

I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

I, Kevin Cooper, like the late Langston Hughes, am American, too. I am also the darker brother, the kind that America and Americans for the most part either love to hate, imprison, or murder on the streets or in some type of legal death chamber. Not all Americans in America are like this, but I believe it’s safe to say that the majority or close to it are…in my humble and condemned opinion. 

While I don’t eat in the kitchen, I eat in a 4′ by 11′ foot cage here on death row at San Quentin Prison, in the progressive state of California. A place where a selected handful of Americans called a jury of my peers sent me, another American, to be put down like an animal, to be strapped down to a chair and forced to inhale lethal gas, or on a death gurney, injected with torturous, poisonous drugs, until I am pronounced dead. 

But before that, I, an American, too, must be held in a cage for almost four decades for a crime I did not commit, as the American legal process plays itself out. I have been, to a degree, like all others in my situation, tortured each day in every way imaginable and unimaginable by other Americans in the name of the law, justice, retribution and politics. Yet I, too, am American.

To have my constitutional rights repeatedly violated, including admission by the governor’s legal affairs secretary saying I was wrongfully convicted, to be told that was ok, and that the state could plant evidence, tamper with evidence and witnesses, withhold material exculpatory evidence at least seven to eight times, destroy evidence, lie about evidence, have lies told about me, and all the other proven things that were and are still being done to me, tells me that I am not really “American” even though I was born and raised and live in America. 

The Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe lawyers who have represented me pro bono for more than 20 years have exposed the state’s bogus circumstantial case against me, have shown how I was framed by the San Bernardino sheriff’s department and how they dismissed the confession of a man who told three people he was one of the killers. 

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To have all the facts and truths and laws ignored by a certain few in order to continue to uphold this wrongful conviction tells us all that justice is just a word that is used by some to achieve the results that they want, and to do so by any means necessary. That is injustice.

A so-called unbiased independent innocence investigation that assigned unqualified “experts,” including ex-law enforcement officers, was ordered by the same so-called progressive governor who allowed my constitutional rights to be violated and willingly accepts the report of “experts” that my attorneys proved was dishonest and deeply flawed. The governor is naive in not realizing these “experts” disrespected him by not following his executive order from the start.

We all know that some district attorneys and their collaborators lie at times to uphold high profile convictions. That is exactly what is taking place in my case. This multi-tiered  American criminal justice system and all of its flaws are well known throughout the world. The racism and classism and other ills that are embedded in this system cannot and will not be ended until truth matters and exceptions to the truth in order to uphold wrongful convictions are eradicated.

Like the late Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, I question America. Is this the land of the free and the home of the brave? Is this America? Or, is this the land of the wrongfully incarcerated and the home of the moral cowards where they will imprison me and hope to have me executed for murders that I, a lone Black man, did not commit. I was wrongfully convicted for the murders of four white people; the lone surviving eyewitness at that time saw my face on TV and told the sheriff’s deputy next to him: “He’s not the guy that did it.” Nor did any of the other witnesses state that they saw a Black man. Several stated that they saw white people driving the victims’ stolen car away from their home on the night of the murders. Yet the racism and tunnel vision of those deputies side by side with the district attorney’s office would rather have me pay with my life for a crime that they wouldn’t solve because in AMERICA the easiest thing to do is to first accuse, then convict a Black man for a crime against white people.

This is an American truth, and an American historical fact. History and the number of present day exonerations proves this over and over and over again. This is the sad reality about the criminal justice system and its caretakers in this country. So once again, I must quote Mr. Langston Hughes about so-called “justice” in this country—the divided states of America.

“That justice is a blind goddess is a thing to which we black are wise: 

Her bandage hides two festering sores that once perhaps were eyes.”

Langston Hughes, “Justice”

Justice is not blind in this country, but too often “justice” is handed down by people who are blind—blinded by their political ideology and their racism and their religious prejudice, their homophobia, their classism and all the other things that we all know blinds people. Especially when they look at a person like me, even though, “I Am American Too,” just a different shade of America that the status quo doesn’t recognize as one of their own.

While I grow strong, it’s not from the prison food; it’s from the food of knowledge that I have gained from reading history, real and truthful his-tory and not the whitewashed kind, as well as the cultural books and the power I gained from them in now knowing who I am as a African American. This food for my mind, spirit and will allows me to continue on in this fight for my life despite what other Americans in America have done to me. Those other Americans are like the West African Obas from yesteryear who told my ancestors to eat in the kitchen when company comes, even though my ancestors are Americans too…

Kevin Cooper

In 1985, Kevin Cooper was convicted of a 1983 quadruple murder and sentenced to death in a trial in which evidence that might have exonerated him was withheld or destroyed from the defense. Cooper has become active in writing from prison to assert his innocence, protest racism in the American criminal justice system, and oppose the death penalty. His case was scrutinized by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof on Jan. 23, 2021May 17, 2018 and June 17, 2017, and by 48 Hours, with Erin Moriarty, most recently on March 21, 2020 in “The Troubling Case Against Keven Cooper.” 

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