(RNS) — Julius Darius Jones is alive!
Just hours before Jones’ scheduled execution on Thursday (Nov. 18), Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt commuted Julius’ death sentence, bringing the machinery of death to a halt.
Prayer had to do something with it.
Stitt is an active member at Woodlake Church in Tulsa and announced that he decided to spare Julius’s life. He said, “After praying consideration and reviewing all materials presented by all sides to this case, I have determined that Julius Jones’ sentence will be commuted to life imprisonment without parole .”
I believe in the power and effectiveness of prayer. I am glad that the governor is a man who prays.
Jones also practices prayer. He is also surrounded with prayer, starting with Mama Jones, and ending with Antoinette his sister. There are hundreds of pastors such as the Rev. Keith Jossell, and the Rev. Cece Jones and Keith Jossell hosted virtual prayer vigils over the past few weeks as the execution date approached. Julius has been supported by some of the most powerful clergy of the country, who have called for the abolishment of the death penalty.
I can’t help but believe that Julius is still breathing today because of the millions of prayers that were offered. Pictures went viral showing people praying in Oklahoma City’s Capitol Building for a miracle and then seeing the crowd singing “Amazing Grace” in the streets when it happened.
The irony of this situation cannot be overlooked. Christians around the globe prayed that a Christian governor wouldn’t execute a Christian brother who is almost certain to be innocent.
There is an old Pogo cartoon which says “We’ve met our enemy…it’s us.” This is true for Christians when it comes down to the death penalty. The death penalty has been supported by Americans in America for the longest time by Christians, despite the fact that they worship an executed and risen Savior.
If Christians were to cease executions, the death penalty would be abolished in an instant. Ninety percent are executed in the Bible Belt, which could also be known as the Death Belt in America. There would be no more executions in America if Christian governors, judges, and legislators were pro-life on this matter. We have made the death penalty a reality, not because of it. We must change this.
The states that have held onto slavery for the longest time are those that continue to carry the death penalty. Where lynchings were happening 100 years ago is precisely where executions are happening today. Tulsa’s Black Wall Street was destroyed in 1921. by the same state that nearly killed Julius Jones.
People attend a Justice for Julius Jones Commutation Hearing Rally in Oklahoma City on Sept. 13, 2021. Photo by Josh Dean Photography
An officer used a racial slur to arrest Julius. Prosecutors struck all but one Black potential juror during jury selection. One juror referred to Julius using the n-word, and suggested that he be taken out of his back and shot.
Four hundred years of slavery, racism, and other forms of injustice still exist in our criminal justice system. This is especially true when it comes down to the death penalty. Black defendants are more than 17 times more likely to be executed for capital crimes when the victim is white. The atrocity of the crime does not determine who is executed in America. It is arbitrary factors such as race and resources that affect who is executed.
Sometimes, it feels like our broken justice system is designed to empower white supremacy. Kyle Rittenhouse’s Wisconsin acquittal will be seen as a license to vigilante justice and a shield against white supremacy. It happened just a day after Jones was sentenced for a crime that he almost certainly did not commit. Americans who feel secure because of laws such as Stand Your Ground can take comfort.
Even if racism weren’t at play, humans are still human. We have repeatedly shown that we make mistakes. Multiple signed affidavits have been submitted by people who are familiar with the identity of the person who was responsible for Jones’ conviction. It is impossible to bring someone back from death.
Sr. Helen Prejean explains it clearly: “The fundamental moral question about those whom we condemn to death” is not “Do they deserve the death penalty?” but “Does anyone deserve to be killed ?”
We have a system which kills, no matter how much we try to sterilize it. Even though we don’t want to see ourselves as a killer, The opposite is true. When democracy dies, we all bear the burden of it. If we are not part of the resistance, all of us have blood on their hands.
We can celebrate that Julius Jones is still alive today, but there are still many things to do. Julius was not released by the governor; he granted him life without parole. It is up to us to stand up for an innocent man. Oklahoma has five more men who are awaiting execution, as well as many others across the nation. We will continue to fight for the complete abolition and abolishment of the death penalty.
Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow we will organize.
Every day, we pray. Because we believe that God cares about our lives, mercy and forgiveness, we pray. My prayer is for us to do the same as Micah: “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly alongside God.”
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