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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fuck u

you guys are queer fags

Jesse Hussein

Killing any human is murder. No one leads anyone to murder. Is kind of funny how some Christians believe in Capitol punishment " murder" but is against abortion. Abortion is a choice.


I think Miss G needs to check on her history. People born in the late 40's, 50's were teenagers during the 60's and participated in marches, a lot were freedom riders etc. And were a great part of the beginnings of trying to establish racial equality with Dr. King. Many now are older Americans (term I prefer) and help to put Mr. Obama into office. I don't know if the death penalty is good on not. But I do believe what goes around comes around. There are bad apples in every race.


A few things here:

in 2008 37 people were executed in the US. 20 were white, and 17 were black.

Racial bias? Where?

Of persons under sentence of death in 2007:
-- 1,804 were white
-- 1,345 were black
-- 26 were American Indian
-- 35 were Asian
-- 10 were of unknown race


It seems to me that more WHITE people have been sentenced to death than black people. It is time to stop race baiting with lies. Black people have just as many opportunities these days as white people.

joe black



I think all of ya'll need to stop hatin on OBAMA because he is the best thing that has EVER happened to America.

So who got something to say now??


This is about the death penalty not Obama.


Well, for one Ashleigh I have to disagree. I wouldn't say Obama is the best thing to happen to America, I would say someone more like Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, or Martin Luther King, or heck, even president Polk among many others. Obama still has a long way to go before he can be considered "the best thing to happen to America."
But really, all this is besides the point. While I do agree with the death penalty I find it interesting the statistics given.


I'm more concerned about the nature of what people here are writing. When we promote execution, we show our feelings of rage and hate. These are not Christian/noble spiritual feelings. These are carnal, animalistic desires which we all have, and we must know how to separate them from what Christ calls us to (if we say we are Christians). Imagine if a condemned killer repents to God before the time of his execution. You'll be seeing him in heaven, folks! So you better learn more about LOVING and less about hating!

robert p curtin

the aclu is a dangerous organization that will lead the USA to an age of anarchy and bloodshed never witnessed in the entire history of the a member of the middle class they are a plague that should be wiped out forever!!


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