Ten Anti-Death Penalty Fallacies: The Case against Capital Punishment Relies on Myth, Misinformation, and Misplaced Emotionalism. (Crime and Punishment)

By Eddlem, Thomas R. | The New American, June 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

Ten Anti-Death Penalty Fallacies: The Case against Capital Punishment Relies on Myth, Misinformation, and Misplaced Emotionalism. (Crime and Punishment)


Eddlem, Thomas R., The New American


Renewed attacks on the death penalty are likely as the trial of accused Twin Tower bombing accomplice Zacharias Moussaoui proceeds. Federal officials have charged Moussaoui with six crimes, four of which carry a potential death sentence. Amnesty International has already issued an "urgent action alert" to call on the world to condemn this "outdated punishment" in the United States. Therefore, there is no time like the present to review some of the misinformation and faulty reasoning of capital punishment opponents.

FALLACY #1: Racism

"The death penalty is racist.... [T]he federal death penalty is used disproportionately against minorities, especially African Americans.... According to [Justice Department] figures, nearly 80 percent of inmates on federal death row are Black, Hispanic, or from another minority group." (Campaign to End the Death Penalty)

"The imposition of the death penalty is racially biased: Nearly 90% of persons executed were convicted of killing whites, although people of color make up over half of all homicide victims in the United States." (National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty)

"Death row in the U.S. has always held a disproportionately large population of people of color relative to the general population." (ACLU Briefing Paper on the Death Penalty)

Correction: The claim that the death penalty unfairly impacts blacks and minorities is a deliberate fraud. The majority of those executed since 1976 have been white, even though black criminals commit a slim majority of murders. If the death penalty is racist, it is biased against white murderers and not blacks.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks committed 51.5% of murders between 1976 and 1999, while whites committed 46.5%. Yet even though blacks committed a majority of murders, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports: "Since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, white inmates have made up the majority of those under sentence of death." (Emphasis added.) Whites continued to comprise the majority on death row in the year 2000 (1,990 whites to 1,535 blacks and 68 others). In the year 2000, 49 of the 85 people actually put to death were whites.

So how can abolitionists claim that the death penalty unfairly punishes black people and other minorities? The statistics they cite are often technically accurate (though not always), but they don't mean what most people assume they mean. Abolitionists often start by analyzing the race of the victims rather than the murderers. Because most murders are intra-racial (white murderers mostly kill other whites and most black murderers kill other blacks), imposing the death penalty more frequently on white murderers means that killers of white people will more likely be executed. In essence, abolitionists playing the race card argue that black murder victims are not receiving justice because only the murderers of white people are punished with the death penalty. Death penalty proponents may consider this denying justice to black people.

New "hate crimes" laws are likely to worsen the hypocrisy. A "hate crimes" mentality translates into tougher sentences for interracial "hate crimes." Because white people are killed by black people 2.6 times more frequently than black people are killed by white people, more killers of white people will be susceptible to receiving the death penalty than killers of black people.

FALLACY #2: Cost

"It costs more to execute a person than to keep him or her in prison for life. A 1993 California study argues that each death penalty case costs at least $1.25 million more than a regular murder case and a sentence of life without the possibility of parole." (deathpenalty.org)

Correction: While these figures are dubious at best, this argument deserves no response. Justice isn't up for sale to the lowest bidder. …

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