Interview with Monique Matthews

"The fight will continue as long as people are on death row"

Monique Matthews is Ryan Matthews sister. She has been active in speaking out for her brother around the country, including at meetings sponsored by the Campaign. Here, she talked to Delphine Selles about her brother’s case.

What was the trial like in 1999?

It was very obvious that we would have problems. The courtroom was like one during the 1950s and 1960s, with Blacks on one side and whites on the other. There was a huge issue with racism. It was a modern-day lynching. We had problems just getting into court everyday. Each time, we had to show identification. It was constant harassment.

My mother made sure that at every court appearance, Ryan would be clothed in clean normal clothes. She did not want him to appear in orange prison uniform. One day, the clothes weren’t ready. My mom was so exhausted that she burst into tears. They put us through so much, calling him a murderer during the trial. They tapped our phone, our house was watched over. That was all part of the harassment.

When you speak about the death penalty and racism, you often talk about the hypocrisy of the United States. What do you mean by that?

The first time I visited Ryan in prison, there was a sign saying "In God We Trust." Well, my god is merciful and would not let that kind of injustice happen. It’s blasphemous and hypocritical on their part. They talk about the U.S. being the "Land of the free, and the home of the brave," yet we treat our fellow citizens in the most inhuman ways.

Could you tell us about the state of the death penalty in the South?

There is no place for a Black man in America. His place is in jail. There is a real crisis in this country.

The execution of people is a terrorist act, and it needs to be approached very seriously. We should focus on education and jobs, instead of fighting wars. We need to find ways to make politicians address these issues. And the role of speaking out is very important. Ryan will be the first man to be exonerated in Jefferson Parish. But he will still face discrimination when he is free. And the fight will continue as long as there are still people on death row, because no one should make the judgment as to whether one should live or die. So I’m ready to continue to speak out.