The Death Penalty and Race Essay

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The Death Penalty and Race

To look closely at many of the mechanisms in American society is to observe the contradiction between constitutional equality and equality in practice. Several of these contradictions exist in the realm of racial equality. For example, Black s often get dealt an unfair hand in the criminal justice system. In The Real War on Crime, Steven Donziger explains,

There are so many more African-Americans than whites in our prisons that the difference cannot be explained by higher crime among African- Americans - racial discrimination is also at work, and it penalizes African- Americans at almost every juncture in the criminal justice system.1

This paper focuses in on one of those "junctures" - the death
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While the topic can be overwhelming and complex, it is important to study the racist institution of the death penalty because execution is the ultimate expression of which individuals are valued by our society and which are considered dispensable. What the US expresses through its executions carries some racist undertones when we look at the races of the persons being executed, but it takes on a clearly racial direction when we consider the race of the original murder victim. For example, "the most comprehensive study of the death penalty found that killers of whites were eleven times more likely to be condemned to death than killers of African- Americans."3 On the flip side, "only 31 of the over 18,000 executions in this country's history involved a white person being punished for killing a Black person."4 In capital punishment, we find the modernday counterpart to lynching. Of course, lynching often meant sporadic acts of individual racism. Selective killing today is an official, bureaucratized act of the state and therefore an official statement of what our government stands for. And what the government stands for is the most complete disempowerment possible - death - for a large number of Black individuals.

Devastation in Black Communities

While there is more going on than just a higher crime rate in Black communities, it is important to study the violence committed and suffered by ghettoized Blacks.

Government leaders use these crime rates to justify

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