JAson Flom has a question for supporters of the death penalty: “What percentage of innocent people do you agree to execute? “
The music executive, who has shaped the careers of artists like Katy Perry, Lorde and Greta Van Fleet, is not being simplistic.
“There will always be a certain percentage [de personas inocentes]”, He tells The Independent from his home in Los Angeles. “[La gente dice] ‘No, we have to be really sure.’ What does that mean? Even if you removed all the perverse incentives that cause wrongful convictions, you would still have a system in which human error is made. So there will always be a certain percentage ”.
Flom is one of more than 150 business leaders who have joined the campaign against the death penalty launched by Sir Richard Branson and the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ), a non-profit organization that works with the private sector. to defend fairness in the criminal justice system.
Other industry members who have signed the pledge include Merck Mercuriadis, founder of the Hipgnosis Songs Fund.
“Business leaders are the main contributors to the global economy, so we have to step up and use our voices to create systemic change,” Mercuriadis said earlier this year. “The death penalty must end and we must be part of making that happen.”
Music industry activism around the death penalty is not new. Capital punishment disproportionately affects black people in the United States, and artists of color have long been leading activism around execution.
Legendary jazz player Duke Ellington, for example, worked with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and performed at benefit concerts for the Scottsboro Boys, a group of black teenagers who were falsely convicted of rape in 1931 and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. His case is considered one of the most famous judicial errors in American history. Artists such as Billie Holiday and Nina Simone used their work during the civil rights movement to draw attention to lynchings, a practice that shares historical roots with the death penalty.
In recent years, the industry has seen a new wave of intersectional art and activism that coincides with the Black Lives Matter movement. Rapper Kendrick Lamar offered a Memorable performance at the 2016 Grammy Awards recreating a string of convicts. Beyoncé pretended drowning in a New Orleans police car in the video for his hit ‘Formation’, the same year he released the album and film Lemonade, delving into the issues of racism and police brutality. Kim Kardashian West has used her considerable platform to advocate for justice issues, presionando a Donald Trump to grant clemency to several prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment and sentenced to death. Kardashian West has called for the imminent execution of Julius Jones, a man sentenced to death in Oklahoma whom he visited in 2020. Jones has been behind bars for decades for a murder that he claims he did not commit, with a growing body of evidence to back up his claims.
Flom’s own criminal justice reform efforts date back to the 1990s. He was a founding member of the board of directors of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization created in 1992 to exonerate those wrongfully convicted. In 2016, he launched the podcast Wrongfully Convicted, in which he has interviewed exonerated persons and incarcerated persons who maintain that they did not commit the crimes for which they were convicted. (Recent interviewees include Ron Jacobsen, a man who spent 30 years in prison before DNA tests proved his innocence; Carlon Roman, who was exonerated this summer of a 1990 wrongful murder conviction; and Joe D’Ambrosio , sentenced to death in 1989 and exonerated after 22 years.) Flom also hosts the podcast Righteous Conviction, currently in its second season, featuring interviews with advocates who have also fought to reform the American criminal justice system.
Flom’s decision to join the fight to end the death penalty in the United States was due in part to his belief that death is not an adequate form of punishment for an incessantly flawed system. Beyond that, there is the existential belief that killing people is not a punishment that a country should be able to impose on its citizens, even if a mistake was somehow impossible.
“All other Western countries came to this conclusion generations ago,” he says. “The only thing that sticks in my head is why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong?”
At this point, Flom walks into her bathroom to show me a book she’s been reading: A Descending Spiral: Exposing the Death Penalty in 12 Essaysby defense attorney Marc Bookman. In it, Bookman writes about cases involving “drunk attorneys, prosecutorial misconduct, racist judges and juries,” and mental illness.
“This book looks at cases of people who are not innocent,” says Flom. “What you learn in him is that some of these people may have been technically guilty, but you start to understand about some of the circumstances and you say, ‘Oh, that’s not cool.’
Flom had an epiphanic moment in which he realized that the situation was not right in 1993, when he read a story “in the New York Post , of all possible places, ”about a man named Steven Lennon, who had been sentenced to 15 years to life in prison on a non-violent charge of possession of cocaine for the first time, in New York State.
“I saw this article and my head exploded,” says Flom. “Everything I thought I knew about justice and fairness and equality and the blindfolded lady with the scales of justice, all of that vanished.” Flom saw similarities between his life and Lennon’s.
“I myself had been a drug addict as a child,” he relates. “I was the same age as him when I read the article. He had been in prison for eight years. He had been sober for about eight years. I am not a religious person, but there, except by the grace of God, I was heading ”.
The moment became a call to action for Flom: “I didn’t know there was nothing that could be done, so I decided to do something.” Flom called a criminal defense attorney he knew from his career in the music industry and asked if anything could be done for Lennon.
“He said, ‘No, but I’ll help you anyway. And we ended up in court six months later. [El abogado] found a loophole. I sat there, and the judge struck with the mallet and sent [Lennon] to home. And that was the best feeling I’ve ever had. I was like, ‘Shit, I have a super power. Now I have to use it. ‘
Flom’s career as a music executive has fueled his perseverance as an advocate.
“In both cases, we work with remote possibilities,” he adds, noting that 60,000 new songs are added to Spotify every day. “A large percentage of them are not heard even once. The idea that someone can actually break through requires magic, hard work, talent, and everything in between. And there are 2.12 million people in prison in the United States and 4.5 million on probation and parole. The idea that we can help get someone out [del sistema] it is also a long shot. It shouldn’t be, but it is. “
The Independent and the nonprofit organization Responsible Business Initiative for Justice(RBIJ) launched a joint campaign to call for an end to the death penalty in the United States. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 recognized signatories to its Declaration of Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty, with The Independent at the bottom of the list. We joined high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, as part of this initiative, and we are committed to highlighting the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.
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Jason Flom, the executive behind Lorde and Katy Perry, fights the death penalty