Racial Characteristics and The Death Penalty Introduction Racism in America has, is, and always will be an argument we fight to end for decades to come. Our Nation was grounded upon the belief that white men and women are superior to all other races. This has proven to be true across several different platforms. From slavery, to prohibition and the war on drugs, the criminal justice system in America has always had large discrepancies between whites and all other races. Specifically between the whites and African Americans.
In this paper I will be analyzing cases, statistics and beliefs throughout America to view the prominence of unfair sentencing of capital punishments among African American criminals. Truth in Numbers As an American, one would like to believe equal rights are a shared experience. In a perfect world everyone is protected and the legal system looks out for the best interest of everyone. Legally, we have a system that is supposed to be unbiased in regards to race, ethnicity, gender and social class position.
Although some argue this is the truth, several statistics have revealed a truly broken system. Taking place right in the very place where “order” is supposed to be restored, the United States Federal Courts. Between 1930 and 1967, fifty-four percent of the 3,859 people put to death, by rulings from US civilians, were African American (Lane, 2010). This statistic is not only frightening but also un-proportionate. It doesn’t add up with the black’s share of the population nor with the percentage of serious crimes committed by African Americans.
One famous study that took place in Georgia helped to prove this inequality even further. David C. Baldus and his colleagues researched over 2,00 homicide cases. The results showed that African American defendants were almost twice as likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants. They also found that in cases where a black man murdered a white victim they were approximately four times more likely to receive the death penalty than if the victim was an African American (Dow, 2011). Startling statistics like this are not just seen in Georgia.
Across platforms within the United States homicides committed by white and black individuals are equal. But statistics show that 80 percent of those put to death were black men who had murdered a white person (Death Penalty, Still Racist and Arbitrary, 2001). The impact Baldus’ study had on the United States court system was little to none. We see this response in a famous Supreme Court case between McCleskey and Kemp. Warren McCleskey was a black man who was charged with murdering a white Atlanta police Officer. The results of the hearing granted McCleskey with the death penalty.
He argued that Baldus’ research had proven his sentence to be flawed, unfair and a direct result of racial bias. In a unanimous vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court ruled that the patterns of which were found in Georgia did not relate to any discrimination in his case. McCleskey received his full sentence and was put to death. Varieties of Racial Basis Racial bias can present itself in a few ways in the United States court system. In McCleskey’s case, one of these five categories would have needed to be met in order for his sentence to be reconsidered.
The first category, which can prove a criminal sentence to be illegitimate, is the overt racial discrimination against minority defendants. This can be seen through the conscious or unconscious racial prejudice within the jury itself (Kleck, 1981). The second category is when a disregard for minority crime victims becomes present. This means that if there is a failure to sentence offenders, of any race, who victimize minority-groups as equally or severely as those cases that involve nonminority group members, an unjust ruling can be made (Kleck, 1981).
The third way racial bias can be shown is through class discrimination. This matters if more severe treatment is given to members of a lower social class than to those of a higher social class. This is apparent in many cases involving African Americans, because the majority of blacks are members of the lower class (Racial Discrimination in Criminal Sentencing, 1981). The fourth way is economic discrimination. If a legal system is structured so that in order to get full protection one must have a significant amount of private resources, this is seen as unfair.
It is unjust if low class defendants receive more severe punishments because they cant afford private attorneys. This can also appear when an individual cannot pay bail (Kleck, 1981). The last category of which racial bias can be shown is within the institution itself. If a minority is charged more severely because of crimes committed by other individuals of that same race, this is an illegitimate sentence. An example of this would be if a black men is sentenced to life in prison for possession of cocaine based merely on the fact that majority of cocaine users are black.
This category is the most problematic because it is so flexible that practically anything could be characterized as racist (Kleck, 1981). Conclusions to Be Drawn Overall, proving racism can be a complicated subject when it comes to the Federal Court system. It has been shown through many cases and statistics that blacks are given harsher sentences. However, proving that these numbers are intentional as opposed to institutional can be very difficult. No court system is going to easily admit that racism was a factor in a ruling.
Therefore, ones best bet as a member of a minority group is to not commit any homicides at all. Works Cited Dow, D. (July, 2011 08). Death penalty, still racist and arbitrary. Retrieved from http://www. nytimes. com/2011/07/09/opinion/09dow. html? _r=0 Kleck, G. (1981). Racial discrimination in criminal sentencing: A critical evaluation of the evidence with additional evidence on the death penalty. American Sociological Review, 46(6), 783-805. Lane, C. (Dec, 2010). The death penalty and racism. Retrieved from http://www. the- american-interest. com/article. cfm? piece=901
Cite this Racism in the Death Penalty
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