An initiative of the Menil Collection with cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in the Greater Houston area.
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Desmond Tutu on Nelson Mandela and Capital Punishment in Texas

Dec 15
2014
5:33 pm
By Menil

Many years ago now, I spent a day in the company of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A former law partner of mine was at the time representing a death row inmate in Texas, a young black man named Dominique Green. Dominique was one of three robbers of a convenience store in Texas. He was black, and the other two were white. One of the store’s customers decided to stop the robbery in progress, exiting the store to get his gun or rifle or Uzi or whatever the NRA helps proliferate in Texas and throughout the US. He returned with his weapon, and in the process was shot by one of the 3 robbers. Not surprisingly, the 2 white robbers claimed it was Dominique (about 19 at the time). The white robbers served virtually no time, and Dominique received the death penalty. This is in and of itself a story about justice Texas style.

Archbishop Tutu had been in touch with Dominique while he spent his long years on death row. Archbishop Tutu is an outspoken opponent of capital punishment. I oppose it as well, although I wish I were more outspoken. While the Archbishop was on a book tour in the US, he wanted to visit Dominique, if possible. I was happy to accompany him.

While we waited in the East Texas maximum security prison to see Dominique, the Archbishop and I talked. He looked at me and said in musically lilting voice and with his piercing but gentle eyes, “You Americans are so generous. Why are you so vengeful?”

Trial lawyers like me usually have answers (or pretend to): I had none that day.

Later, I asked the Archbishop about Nelson Mandela. Again, in his musical voice, infused with joy, he exclaimed, “Oh, he was a very very bad man — until he went to prison. Then he became a saint.”

I was looking this morning at a small photo of Archbishop Tutu giving me a kiss after a service he performed in an East Texas church later that memorable and moving day. I know I was kissed by an angel.