Racial Issues in Criminal Justice: The Case of African Americans

By Marvin D. Free Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
The Racist Application
of Capital Punishment to
African Americans

David V. Baker


INTRODUCTION

Racism is integral to capital sentencing in U.S. society. Indeed, the research record on race and capital punishment challenges our society's most basic notions of fairness and equity in criminal sentencing. Yet, nowhere is our societal indifference toward racial injustice more apparent than our patent denial of racial discrimination in capital sentencing. For nearly forty years now, a plethora of distinguished voices have censured the racist administration of the death penalty. In 1967, for example, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice declared that the imposition of death sentences in the United States follows discriminatory patterns. [The death sentence is disproportionately imposed and carried out on the poor, the Negro, and the members of unpopular groups.]1 Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg asserted a few years later that the Court should declare capital punishment unconstitutional because it is [highly suspect under the standards of degrading severity and wanton imposition.]2 In 1982, the National Minority Advisory Council on Criminal Justice recognized that capital sentencing is a singularly instructive example of how discretion exacts its inequitable toll on nonwhites.3 Five years later, the American Society of Criminology publicly condemned capital punishment as racist in its application and urged its members to use their professional skills to abolish the penalty. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun asserted after a twentyyear struggle with the issue of capital punishment that the Court must recognize that [the death penalty experiment has failed] and that the

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