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Racial Bias Still Rampant in Executions

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April 25, 2008

Today Chris Hill, State Strategies Coordinator for our Capital Punishment Project, blogged in DailyKos about the ongoing racial disparities in death penalty sentences in the U.S., and especially when it comes to punishing certain crimes.

He writes:

The 2003 Amnesty study found racial bias in the death penalty systems of North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey. The problem cited by Amnesty in most of those states was that defendants were more likely to be sentenced to death if their victim was white and that the racial configuration most likely to receive capital punishment is black defendants convicted of killing white victims.

Similar studies have shown the existence of the same racial bias in the death penalty systems of California, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Maryland and North Carolina. An American Sociological Review article from 2007 showed that minorities capitally sentenced for killing white people were more likely to have their sentences carried out than minorities who kill non-whites. One of the authors of the study said, “[w]hite lives are still valued more than black ones when it comes to deciding who gets executed and who does not.”

As state executioners get back to work in light of last week’s Supreme Court decision in Baze v. Rees, these kinds of disparities demand more investigation and a remedy.