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Man freed from Mississippi death row: ‘Racism is still around’

Gary Griffin spent five years on Mississippi’s death row before having his sentence overturned.

Gary Griffin spent five years on Mississippi’s death row before having his sentence overturned.

But he admitted he is not innocent.

Gary Griffin and his lawyer, Ken Rose, senior staff attorney for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, spoke Monday as part of the “Race, Innocence and the End of the Death Penalty” lecture series.

As of January 2016, capital punishment is legal in 31 states in the U.S. North Carolina hasn’t carried out a death penalty punishment since 2006.

“Today, racism is still around,” Griffin said in an interview.

“We see that with police shootings, gerrymandering, red lining of housing, so it seemed like we were worse off in 2016 than we was in 1985. We haven’t made any progress.”

Griffin said students are vital to the change he said society needs to see.

“It was the student movements of the ’50s, the ’60s and ’70s that brought about change,” he said. “And we gonna need you guys to bring about change this time.”

Griffin said he wanted others to become passionate about social change after hearing his lecture.

“I speak to inspire others to stand up, to reevaluate their values and their opinions of what they see in front of them,” he said.

Political science professor Frank Baumgartner said this lecture series has a theme of injustice in crime and punishment. The series is hosted by Baumgartner’s class of the same name and the political science department.

“The entire series is about the issues related to innocence, racial disparities in the criminal justice system, the death penalty in particular and whether the death penalty is really something that is worth it,” he said.

Baumgartner said the lecture was important to his class, but he said that was not the only reason he hosted it.

“I think that the people that come in with these personal stories can convey to the students in a way that I could never do,” he said.

Baumgartner said he respects different opinions on capital punishment.

“I am personally opposed to it in the absolute because I do not believe in killing. However, I understand that other people differ on that,” he said.

“I think what we can agree on is whether the system is worth the administrative problems, and I think that’s where we can reach common grounds on the facts and evidence.”

Rose said the lecture was about more than the death penalty.

“It’s about prison (and) mass incarceration,” Rose said in an interview.

“It’s about the death penalty. It’s about the focus of society on incarceration over education, over childhood welfare, over other things we could be spending our resources on that would have a greater impact on the health and welfare of many of our population.”

Griffin said he was well aware he could not undo the wrongs he has done.

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“If I can’t help anybody, then I am surely not going to hurt them,” he said.