At the Cross: Race, Religion, and Citizenship in the Politics of the Death Penalty

At the Cross: Race, Religion, and Citizenship in the Politics of the Death Penalty

At the Cross: Race, Religion, and Citizenship in the Politics of the Death Penalty

At the Cross: Race, Religion, and Citizenship in the Politics of the Death Penalty


Curing systemic inequalities in the criminal justice system is the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement. No part of that system highlights this truth more than the current implementation of the death penalty. At the Cross tells a story of the relationship between the death penalty and race in American politics that complicates the common belief that individual African Americans, especially poor African Americans, are more subject to the death penalty in criminal cases. The current death penalty regime operates quite differently than it did in the past. The findings of this research demonstrate the racial inequity in the meting out of death sentences has legal and political externalities that move beyond individual defendants to larger numbers of African Americans.

At the Cross looks at the meaning of the death penalty to and for African Americans by using various sites of analysis. Using various sites of analysis, Price shows the connection between criminal justice policies like the death penalty and the political and legal rights of African Americans who are tangentially connected to the criminal justice system through familial and social networks. Drawing on black politics, legal and political theory and narrative analysis, Price utilizes a mixed-method approach that incorporates analysis of media reports, capital jury selection and survey data, as well as original focus group data. As the rates of incarceration trend upward, Black politics scholars have focused on the impact of incarceration on the voting strength of the black community. Local, and even regional, narratives of African American politics and the death penalty expose the fractures in American democracy that foment perceptions of exclusion among blacks.


On the day before I took the bar exam, my father died. My mother debated about whether to tell me or to wait. All I could do was try to think of the last time I had seen him face to face. I knew it was before I left Houston for Ann Arbor only to return almost home to study law in Austin. This was the last not-doing of the things I needed from a man who had done nothing except help my mother give me life. Now when I think about how this last hoop I jumped through to enter the practice of law is so marked by the death of my father, I know that death had been there from the beginning.

I have always feared the death of my mother. Her life was also mine. From a very early age, I remember anxiety when my mother would not make it home at her usual time. As she ages, she more freely discusses the anxiety she had then about her death and her fear that my sisters and I would be set adrift like she was when her mother died. At these times, I know that my fear was warranted. Even now, as an adult, I find myself holding my breath, if only for seconds, when I know she should be home and she does not answer the phone. Not only I, but also my sisters, live and breathe in her responses. Her breath, her heartbeat, her blood pressure, the fluidity of her joints, her happiness, her wishes are constellations by which we set our course.

My father’s life had always been his own. His life had never been a fixed point for he or I. Gone before my twin sister and I, the last of their children, were born, my childhood memories are remote islands of his casual and inconsistent intrusions. He never lingered long enough to fit smoothly into the female form of our family. In middle school, I would see him frequently from the window of my school bus on the way to a better education than my community could provide as he laughed with the other workingmen in the parking lot of the donut shop. Other children on the bus would joke about . . .

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