Death Penalty Discrimination
"Twenty years have past since this court declared that the death penalty
must be imposed fairly, and with reasonable consistency, or not at all, and,
despite the effort of the states and courts to devise legal formulas and
procedural rules to meet this daunting challenge, the death penalty remains
fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice and mistake." --Justice

Harry Blackmun, Feb. 22, 1994. Capital punishment is one of the most debatable
subjects, in American society. Proponents of the death penalty believe it is
justice--retribution for the crimes committed. The reason underlining Americans'
overwhelming support of executions is usually revenge. We believe that most
serious crimes deserve the most serious punishment, as we recall the statement
from the Old Testament, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,"
principle. When we hear about a murderer, rarely do we want to understand what
drove him to murder; more often, we wish to kill him. It is difficult to
understand that the vengefulness we feel toward a murderer, which drives us to
champion execution, is identical to the wish for revenge the murderer feels for
what he believes to be the horrendous injustices in his life. Our desire to tame
the heart of the murderer is quite limited. We feel as murderous toward them as
they do toward those they have killed. We wish either to kill or torture them.

This makes a murderer, if he is imprisoned, even more murderous. Just as the
murderer's murder accomplishes nothing, so too the death penalty has not in any
way decreased murder. The judicial system was created in hopes of providing
justice for all people. Although movements such as Civil Rights and Black Power
have taken place to ensure justice for all, discrimination still exists in our
judicial system. Capital Punishment is applied in an unfair, arbitrary and
discriminatory manner. As long as it remains a part of our penal system, it will
be used disproportionately against the poor, racial minorities, and those who
had received inadequate legal representation. The following essay will cover how
racism is applied in the death penalty; the means of discretion that the judges
and jury use; and how the poor are discriminated against due to their lack of
proper council. "Even under the most sophisticated death penalty statutes,
race continues to play a major role in determining who shall live and who shall
die." --Justice Harry Blackmun Throughout American history, the death
penalty has fallen disproportionately on racial minorities. From 1930, the first
year for which statistics are readily available from the Bureau of Justice

Statistics, to 1967, 3,859 persons were executed under civil jurisdiction in the

United States. During this period of nearly half a century, over half (54%) of
those executed were black, 45 percent were white, and the remaining one percent
were members of other racial groups (see fig. 1). Between 1930 and 1976 nearly

90% of those executed for the crime of rape in this country were

African-Americans . Between 1930 and 1996, 4220 prisoners were executed in the

U.S.; more than half (53%) were black . Currently, about 50% of those on the
nations death rows are from minority populations representing 20% of the
country's population. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned existing death
penalty statutes in part because of the danger that those being selected to die
were chosen out of racial prejudice. Legislatures adopted the death sentencing
procedures that were supposed to eliminate the influence of race from the death
sentencing process. That was one of the grounds on which the Supreme Court ruled
the death penalty unconstitutional in Furman. However, evidence of racial
discrimination in the application of capital punishment continues. Nearly 40% of
those executed since 1976 have been black, although blacks constitute only 12%
of the population. And in almost every death penalty case, the race of the
victims is white (see fig. 2). Last year alone, 89% of the death sentences
carried out involved white victims, even though 50% of the homicides in America
have been black victims . Of all the executions that have occurred since the
death penalty was reinstated in 1976, only one has involved a white defendant
for the murder of a black person. Racial minorities are being prosecuted under
federal death penalty laws far beyond their proportion in the general population
and the population of the criminal offenders. Race of the victim was found to
influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the
death penalty. For example, those who murdered whites were found more likely to
be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks