Death Penalty Maintains Racial Inequality

The inauguration of Barack Obama, one day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, has prompted a healthy discussion in the nation about racial and socioeconomic inequality.

As part of that discussion it is important to point out that, just like the divisions in the Jim Crow south, the death penalty continues to divide us by race and socioeconomic status.

In 1976, when the Supreme Court approved the modern death penalty statutes that were supposed to ensure that death sentences were no longer arbitrary and discriminatory, the Court stated that "capital punishment is an expression of society's moral outrage at particularly offensive conduct . . ."

Yet the evidence from the past 33 years demonstrates that capital punishment remains arbitrary and that society's moral outrage continues to be expressed loudest when wealthy white people are homicide victims. As blue ribbon study commissions in California (PDF), and Maryland (PDF) have recently reiterated, empirical research across the country consistently demonstrates that a defendant who kills a white person is far more likely to receive the death penalty than a defendant who kills a person of color, and the racial configuration most likely to result in a death sentence is a black-on-white crime. Similarly, this research demonstrates that defendants whose victims are high in socioeconomic status face a significantly higher risk of execution.

The death penalty's racial and socioeconomic bias persists despite the best efforts of legislators and judges to erect fair and equitable capital punishment procedures. This bias sends the clear and morally repugnant message that society values wealthy victims more than poor and middle class victims, and white victims more than victims of color. It is one more reason to abolish capital punishment. A society that follows Reverend King's admonition to judge men and women by their character and not their skin color values the lives of all equally, regardless of racial or socioeconomic status.

And capital punishment is harmful to people of color and poor people for another reason: The death penalty aggressively consumes scarce state resources upon which many poor people and people of color depend. In cities across the country, prosecuting death penalty cases has left prosecutors' offices in dire financial straits. In New Orleans, for example, the prosecutor's office has filed for bankruptcy after being held civilly liable for wrongfully sentencing to death an innocent man. Moreover, every dollar spent on the death penalty is one dollar unavailable for community policing and other measures to make poor and African-American communities safer.

The election of Barack Obama as our Nation's 44th President shows how far we have come towards healing the wounds of slavery and systemic racial discrimination. Our continued use of the death penalty, predominately in the South, shows how far we have yet to go.

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blondie

Please go to this website. http://www.justiceforwandaspann.com You may not agree with this corrupt court system we have today especially in the state og Georgia,

Me

Hang'em high !
Fry Mummia !
Down with ACLU!

Elizabeth

Im against death penalties to those under the age of 18.......stop death penalties or me and my 9,000 friend will go on strike or protest against it.......it should be illegal and ya'll sorry cops do it and get away with it but if one of us do it ya got sum to say if we cant yall lazy @$$ cant

Elizabeth

Im against death penalties to those under the age of 18.......stop death penalties or me and my 9,000 friend will go on strike or protest against it.......it should be illegal and ya'll sorry cops do it and get away with it but if one of us do it ya got sum to say if we cant yall lazy @$$ cant sorrrrrrrrrry peoplessssssssssssssss

taytay

u cops sukkkkkkkk meat

John

The death penalty is a very important sitution. I believe if a person coments a bad enough crime they deserve to die. If someone murdered a little child or raped a little child or murder a family how can you say they don't deserve to die. Should they just sit in prision for the rest of there lives while our tax money pays for there food, cloths, education.

Miss G

Electing Barack Obama for the presidency does NOT show how far we have come towards healing any wounds of slavery and systemic racial discrimination. It only shows that those who have grown up in diversity have a higher acceptance of different races and ethnicities.

Trust, the majority of older white folks born as early as 1950-60 are still stuck in their ways, racist, and proud of it.

It was the young generation that put Obama into office. Not the old white generation.

ethan hazan

i agree with john if somone regardless of there age has commited a horrible crime should be put to death. also to all those saying cops suck fuck you and mostly fuck elizibeth you are under educated and dont know what your talking about !!!!!

Scott H

Everyone seems to be focusing on whether or not the death penalty should be abolished. I feel like the vast majority of the people commenting on this article are missing the point of the article. The author is not trying to show that the death penalty is outdated and needs to be stopped because it is inhumane. He is lucidly describing the seemingly never ending racial inequality that exists in our country. He argues that Barack Obama being elected president “shows how far we have come towards healing the wounds of slavery and systemic racial discrimination. Our continued use of the death penalty, predominately in the South, shows how far we have yet to go.”

The death penalty to me is one of the many ways we decide to play god. We now have the technology to keep people alive but is that the right thing to do? I believe that the death penalty should remain active, but only for the monsters like John pointed out. There needs to be some sort of unbiased screening of the death penalty in every state to make sure that one race is not more favored then another.

Andrea, you said that “I do not think we should forget about the horrible crimes they people have committed to lead them to the death penalty. I believe it is justice. Color should not be brought into it.” Unfortunately, as much as I would like to just completely disregard racial profiling like you seem to have done, this is impossible. Race does play a key part in determining who gets the death penalty and who doesn’t.

Dylan Horowitz

I do not think that Obama's inauguration has much to do with the ongoing debate about racial inequality in regards to the death sentence. The facts given in the article speak for themselves. People tried for the murder of white victims are more likely to be sentenced to the death penalty. It creates an interesting dilemma: Does the justice system stay impartial or are more people of color convicted to the death penalty because of racism or racist tendencies? Is this just how it plays out, and there is no rhyme or reason to it? Studying every single case intricately from 1976 where the defendant was sentenced to death is not plausible and depending on the investigators, everybody will always be a little biased whether they realize it or not. In response to John: Who decides what a bad enough crime is? What could the standards be for this?
Considering the vast amount of different situations and possibilities regarding the death penalty, it will be almost impossible to set standards in judging the racial equality of a trial involving the death penalty. The only way to get rid of everything is to eliminate the death penalty entirely.

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