As I was researching executions, I came across racism and the death penalty. An issue I knew was a prevalent one. But after divulging myself in the information , I discovered some recent blatant real life case scenarios that I felt strongly should be bought to the forefront for those that missed the first memo. So, read on. And if you want more, go to the website: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/
Caution : “N” Word Below!!!!!
From The Death Penalty Information Center
The results of two new studies which underscore the continuing injustice of racism in the application of the death penalty are being released through this report. The first study documents the infectious presence of racism in the death penalty, and demonstrates that this problem has not slackened with time, nor is it restricted to a single region of the country. The other study identifies one of the potential causes for this continuing crisis: those who are making the 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 of lynchings 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 David Baldus and statistician George Woodworth, along with colleagues in Philadelphia, have conducted a careful analysis of race and the death penalty in Philadelphia which reveals that the odds of receiving a death sentence are nearly four times (3.9) higher if the defendant is black. These results were obtained after analyzing and controlling for case differences such as the severity of the crime and the background of the defendant. The data were subjected to various forms of analysis, but the conclusion was clear: blacks were being sentenced to death far in excess of other defendants for similar crimes.
A second study by Professor Jeffrey Pokorak and researchers at St. Mary’s University Law School in Texas provides part of the explanation for why the application of the death penalty remains racially skewed. Their study found that the key decision makers in death cases around the country are almost exclusively white men. Of the chief District Attorneys in counties using the 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 has appeared throughout the country over the past twenty years. Examinations of the relationship between 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, there was a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination, or both. The gravity of the close connection between race and the death penalty is shown when compared to studies in other fields. Race is more likely to affect death sentencing than smoking affects the likelihood of dying from heart disease. The latter evidence has produced enormous changes in law and societal practice, while racism in the death penalty has been largely ignored.
Despite overwhelming evidence of discrimination, the response of the courts has been to deny relief on the grounds that patterns of racial disparities are insufficient to prove racial bias in individual cases. With the single exception of Kentucky which recently passed a version of the Racial Justice Act, legislatures have turned their back on corrective measures. Despite the prior example of legislation in response to similar discrimination in such areas as employment and housing, legislatures on both the federal and state level have failed to pass civil rights laws regarding the death penalty for fear of stopping capital punishment entirely. And so, the sore festers even as executions accelerate and appeals are curtailed.
The human cost of this racial injustice is incalculable. The decisions about who lives and who dies are being made along racial lines by a nearly all white group of prosecutors. The death penalty presents a stark symbol of the effects of racial discrimination. In individual cases, this racism is reflected in ethnic slurs hurled at black defendants by the prosecution and even by the defense. It results in black jurors being systematically barred from service, and in the devoting of more resources to white victims of homicide at the expense of black victims. And it results in a death penalty in which blacks are frequently put to death for murdering whites, but whites are almost never executed for murdering blacks. Such a system of injustice is not merely unfair and unconstitutional–it tears at the very principles to which this country struggles to adhere.
It is tempting to pretend that minorities on death row share a fate in no way connected to our 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 easily confined. –Justice William Brennan (1987)2
Blatant racism is seen and heard too often in courtrooms around the country. In death penalty cases, the use of derogatory slurs kindles the flames of prejudice and allows the jury to judge harshly those they wish to scapegoat for the problem of crime. A few examples illustrate the intensity of this racism:
¥ “One of you two is gonna hang for this. Since you’re the nigger, you’re elected.”3 These words were spoken by a Texas police officer to Clarence Brandley, who was charged with the murder of a white high school girl. Brandley was later exonerated in 1990 after ten years on death row.
¥ In preparing for the penalty phase of an African-American defendant’s trial, a white judge in Florida said in open court: “Since the nigger mom and dad are here anyway, why don’t we go ahead and do the penalty phase today instead of having to subpoena them back at cost to the state.”4Anthony Peek was sentenced to death and the sentence was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court in 1986 reviewing his claim of racial bias.
¥ A prosecutor in Alabama gave as his reason for striking several potential jurors the fact that they were affiliated with Alabama State University — a predominantly black institution. This pretext was considered race neutral by the reviewing court. 5
¥ During the 1997 election campaign for Philadelphia’s District Attorney, it was revealed that one of the candidates had produced, as an Assistant D.A., a training video for new prosecutors in which he instructed them about whom to exclude from the jury, noting that “young black women are very bad” on the jury for a prosecutor, and that “blacks from low-income areas are less likely to convict.”6 The training tape also instructed the new recruits on how to hide the racial motivation for their jury strikes.
¥ In Missouri, Judge Earl Blackwell issued a signed press release about his judicial election announcing his new affiliation with the Republican Party while presiding over a death penalty case against an unemployed African-American defendant. The press release stated, in part: “[T]he Democrat party places far too much emphasis on representing minorities . . . people who dont’ (sic) want to work, and people with a skin that’s any color but white . . . .”7 The judge denied a motion to recuse himself from the trial. The defendant, Brian Kinder, was convicted and sentenced to death, and Missouri’s Supreme Court affirmed in 1996.8
These examples are symbolic of a more systemic racism, and they provide a sense of how damaging racial prejudice and insensitivity can be when someone is facing execution. Empirical studies which provide the national evidence of racism in capital punishment are critical to understanding that this problem goes far beyond individual examples of prejudice.
When in Gregg v. Georgia the Supreme Court gave its seal of approval to capital punishment, this endorsement was premised on the promise that capital punishment would be administered with fairness and justice. Instead, the promise has become a cruel and empty mockery. If not remedied, the scandalous state of our present system of capital punishment will cast a pall of shame over our society for years to come. We cannot let it continue. -Justice Thurgood Marshall, 19909
The Philadelphia Story
More than half of the death sentences rendered in Pennsylvania are cases from Philadelphia, a city with only 14% of the state’s population. Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Lynne Abraham, has been called “The Deadliest D.A.” in a 1995 New York Times article.10 Eighty-three percent of those on death row from Philadelphia are African-American. But raw numbers of racial disproportion do not tell the whole story. In order to determine for certain whether race is a decisive factor, researchers must examine the outcomes in cases of similar severity with defendants of similar criminal backgrounds.
This examination requires a statistical analysis which takes into account such factors as multiple victims, the deliberate infliction of pain, and the background of the accused. The ultimate question is: “Among similar cases, is race a factor in whether death sentences are imposed against black defendants?”
Such a study was recently conducted in Philadelphia. 11The results are dramatic, particularly for a state outside of the deep south, a region where racial disparities in the criminal justice system have a long history. The researchers examined a large sample of the murders which were eligible for the death penalty in the state between 1983 and 1993. The researchers found that, even after controlling for case differences, blacks in Philadelphia were substantially more likely to get the death penalty than other defendants who committed similar murders. Black defendants faced odds of receiving a death sentence that were 3.9 times higher than other similarly situated defendants.
The researchers used a variety of analytical tools to compare and validate their findings. They consistently found substantial race-of-defendant disparities. The results of this bias against black defendants in Philadelphia is estimated to be an excess of 38% in death sentences for black defendants compared to all other defendants for similar crimes.