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The Death Penalty in Black and White-Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides

The Death Penalty in Black and White-Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides

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Published by Rbg Street Scholar
The Death Penalty in Black and White-Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides
The Death Penalty in Black and White-Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides

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Published by: Rbg Street Scholar on Jul 17, 2012
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The Death Penalty in Black and White:Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides
The Death Penalty in Black and WhitePage 2
The Death Penalty in Black and White: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides
by Richard C. Dieter, Esq.
Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center
It is tempting to pretend that minorities on death row share a fate in no way connected toour own, that our treatment of them sounds no echoes beyond the chambers in which they die.Such an illusion is ultimately corrosive, for the reverberations of injustice are not so easilyconfined. -
Justice William Brennan (1987)Hypertext Table of ContentsExecutive Summary
The Death Penalty in Black and WhitePage 3
Executive Summary
 The results of two new studies which underscore the continuing injustice of racism in theapplication of the death penalty are being released through this report. The first studydocuments the infectious presence of racism in the death penalty, and demonstrates that thisproblem has not slackened with time, nor is it restricted to a single region of the country. Theother study identifies one of the potential causes for this continuing crisis: those who are makingthe critical death penalty decisions in this country are almost exclusively white.From the days of slavery in which black people were considered property, through the years oflynchings and Jim Crow laws, capital punishment has always been deeply affected by race.Unfortunately, the days of racial bias in the death penalty are not a remnant of the past.Two of the country's foremost researchers on race and capital punishment, law professor DavidBaldus and statistician George Woodworth, along with colleagues in Philadelphia, haveconducted a careful analysis of race and the death penalty in Philadelphia which reveals thatthe odds of receiving a death sentence are nearly four times (3.9) higher if the defendant isblack. These results were obtained after analyzing and controlling for case differences such asthe severity of the crime and the background of the defendant. The data were subjected tovarious forms of analysis, but the conclusion was clear: blacks were being sentenced to deathfar in excess of other defendants for similar crimes.A second study by Professor Jeffrey Pokorak and researchers at St. Mary's University LawSchool in Texas provides part of the explanation for why the application of the death penaltyremains racially skewed. Their study found that the key decision makers in death cases aroundthe country are almost exclusively white men. Of the chief District Attorneys in counties usingthe death penalty in the United States, nearly 98% are white and only 1% are African-American.These new empirical studies underscore a persistent pattern of racial disparities which hasappeared throughout the country over the past twenty years. Examinations of the relationshipbetween race and the death penalty, with varying levels of thoroughness and sophistication,have now been conducted in every major death penalty state. In 96% of these reviews, therewas a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination, or both. The gravity ofthe close connection between race and the death penalty is shown when compared to studies inother fields. Race is more likely to affect death sentencing than smoking affects the likelihood ofdying from heart disease. The latter evidence has produced enormous changes in law andsocietal practice, while racism in the death penalty has been largely ignored.Despite overwhelming evidence of discrimination, the response of the courts has been to denyrelief on the grounds that patterns of racial disparities are insufficient to prove racial bias inindividual cases. With the single exception of Kentucky which recently passed a version of theRacial Justice Act, legislatures have turned their back on corrective measures. Despite the priorexample of legislation in response to similar discrimination in such areas as employment andhousing, legislatures on both the federal and state level have failed to pass civil rights lawsregarding the death penalty for fear of stopping capital punishment entirely. And so, the sorefesters even as executions accelerate and appeals are curtailed.The human cost of this racial injustice is incalculable. The decisions about who lives and whodies are being made along racial lines by a nearly all white group of prosecutors. The deathpenalty presents a stark symbol of the effects of racial discrimination. In individual cases, this

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