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It Ain't Where You're From, It's Where You're At

Christopher Hill,
Capital Punishment Project
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December 5, 2008

One of the greatest rappers of all-time, Rakim said: “it ain’t where you’re from/it’s where you’re at.” This statement is magnified when discussing capital punishment. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “[e] veryone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration…no distinction shall be made on the basis of the …jurisdictional …territory to which a person belongs…”

Unfortunately, the United States violates this article of the human rights document with its irreparably broken capital punishment system. While no distinction should be made on the basis of jurisdiction, we see that the arbitrary nature of the death penalty depends on, among other things, location, location, location.

If a person commits a murder in Texas that person is more likely to be tried for capital murder and executed than if a similar murder is committed in New Hampshire. But there is not only a difference with interstate comparisons. The difference is demonstrated intrastate as well. A series of articles by the Atlanta Journal Constitution called “A Matter of Life and Death” highlighted the issue of geographic disparities in the death penalty based on what county in Georgia a person resides. Since District Attorneys choose whether to seek the death penalty, a person who committed a robbery-murder in one county in Georgia may not be charged with a capital crime while a similar robbery-murder can take place in another county and the person will be charged capitally.

Death penalty jurisdictions in this country claim that the penalty is given to the “worst of the worst.” It is not. It is given to people who are poor and/or minorities with unqualified lawyers and white victims who commit the crime in a place with a prosecutor who is likely to seek death and a jury that is likely to return a death sentence. In the case of Alabama, even if the jury returns a life verdict, the judge can override the jury’s decision and sentence a person to death. Geographic disparities in the United States capital punishment system do not only violate the UDHR, they provide another reason why the death penalty should be abolished.

Celebrate the UDHR at 60 with the ACLU. Visit and sign the ACLU’s petition calling on the government and newly elected president to recommit to the UDHR. On December 10, the ACLU’s efforts will culminate in the online launch of an exclusive publication about the importance of the UDHR.

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