un(Warren)ted by Gina McKlveen

Gina McKlveen     

Title: un(Warren)ted 

Medium: pen on paper     

Size: 8″x10″  

Artist Statement:  On September 29, 1991 the New York Times reported: “Warren McCleskey, who died in Georgia’s electric chair last week, was no saint or hero. He was a robber, part of a gang that shot and killed an off-duty police officer during a holdup.” Then the NYT asked: “Thirteen years later, however, a question reverberates: Did Warren McCleskey deserve the chair?” On September 29, 2020 I asked the same question forty-two years later: Did Warren McCleskey deserve the chair? He was no saint or hero. He was a robber, part of a gang that shot and killed an off-duty police officer during a holdup. He was a man. He was Black. I’m not sure if he had a family, but he was at least someone’s son. I studied this case in law school with my peers in Constitutional Law. My professor showed our class a picture of Warren McCleskey before diving into the Supreme Court case which ruled that a statistical study attempting to show there was a racially disproportionate impact in Georgia’s death penalty (namely that defendants charged with killing White victims were about 4 times likely to receive the death penalty than defendants charged with killing Blacks) did not substantially prove McCleskey’s claim that would require the government to reverse his death sentence. These are the notes I took for that class on Warren McCleskey’s case. You’ll notice the actual notes are pretty scarce. Granted, I don’t always take the best notes. I miss a lot of things the professor says or zone out and just start doodling on the edges of my notebook. But this time, I think my notes say it all. My pen did not outline the facts of his case, nor the various arguments by the justices, but I did outline the shape of his head, the lines of his face, and the form of his smile. In other words, my notes did something the legal system doesn’t always do—I saw Warren McCleskey. I think sometimes the law forgets that it’s dealing with human beings. No one denied that Warren McCleskey killed a police officer. No one denied that the police officer’s life mattered. But what this case failed to acknowledge was that Warren McCleskey’s life also mattered.