‘Race to Execution’ Questions Link Between Death Penalty and Race

February 27, 2009 by · Comments Off 

By Alan Rose

Twenty-two pictures lined the wall as students and faculty members entered the screening of Race to Execution and “Juror Number Six.” The screenings were followed by a question and answer session with a panel of four faculty members.

The panel was lead by SMU professor Rick Halperin, who is the Director of the SMU Human Rights Education Program.

Dick Hawkins, Associate Professor and Undergraduate Advisor in SMU’s Sociology department, and Victoria Palacios, Associate Professor of Law at SMU’s Dedman School of Law joined Halperin and Cinema-Television department chair Rachel Lyon.

Lyon produced the two films screened as a part of the Human Rights Education Program.

Before the films screened, Halperin spoke to the crowd of just over 40 to help re-introduce the issue to the audience members.

“This issue is all about human beings, people who have made terrible mistakes and some people that have been caught up in something that is out of their control,” Halperin said.

The first of the two films featured the stories of two Death Row inmates, one of which was executed and the other pardoned. The film intertwines the two stories with interviews from different people involved on both sides of the two cases. Each contains very different opinions of how the cases were handled regarding the factor of race.

“It’s the elephant in the room. The single largest issue: Who will live and who will die?” Lyon said. “No matter what the goals of the death penalty are, in the last 200 years, we have not been able to be fair,” she said.

Her two films delve deep into the issue of race and the death penalty.

Lauren Weatherson, a junior majoring in cinema-television felt that it was an eye-opening and thought-provoking experience.

“It really makes you question our justice system that you may have previously thought was truly unbiased and fair,” Weatherson said.

Senior Erik Rommesmo thought that the film brought up some important statistics that many people don’t know.

“It’s scary to think that many people are put to death even with a lack of evidence,” Rommesmo said.

Over 2.5 million people have seen this film due to it being featured on “Independent Lens”, a program on PBS.

The second of the two films screened, “Juror Number Six”, is a twelve-minute short film made for the Internet.

“That’s why the text was so big,” joked Lyon after the screening.

Lyon plans to continue to spread the word about her films in hopes of evoking more discussions such as the one held on the SMU campus.