Left Menu
Development News Edition

Report: Death penalty cases show history of racial disparity

The report from the Death Penalty Information Center is a history lesson in how lynchings and executions have been used in America and how discrimination bleeds into the entire criminal justice system. It traces a line from lynchings of old — killings outside the law — where Black people were killed in an effort to assert social control during slavery and Jim Crow, and how that eventually translated into state-ordered executions.

PTI | Washington DC | Updated: 15-09-2020 13:06 IST | Created: 15-09-2020 13:06 IST
Report: Death penalty cases show history of racial disparity

Black people have been overrepresented on death rows across the United States and killers of Black people are less likely to face the death penalty than people who kill white people, a new report found. The report from the Death Penalty Information Center is a history lesson in how lynchings and executions have been used in America and how discrimination bleeds into the entire criminal justice system.

It traces a line from lynchings of old — killings outside the law — where Black people were killed in an effort to assert social control during slavery and Jim Crow, and how that eventually translated into state-ordered executions. It comes as the U.S. grapples with criminal justice and police reform following George Floyd's death and the deaths of other Black people at the hands of police and in the wake of mass protest.

Across the country, 30 states have the death penalty but executions occur mostly in Southern states. And the federal government this year began carrying out executions again after a 17-year hiatus despite waning public support for the death penalty. The center, a think tank that studies both state and federal capital cases, wrote that capital punishment must be included in the discussion of the past.

“I think what the data tells us and what history tells us is that they're all part of the same phenomenon. The death penalty in inextricably linked to our history of slavery, of lynching, and Jim Crow segregation and we wanted to put what is happening today in its appropriate context,” said Robert Dunham, the head of the center. The report found that throughout the modern era, people of color have been overrepresented on death row — in 2019, 52 per cent of the death row inmates were Black, but that number has dropped to 42 per cent this year, when approximately 60 per cent of the population is white.

But it also showed that the killers of white people were more likely than the killers of Black people to face the death penalty, and cases with white victims were more likely to be investigated. Since the death penalty resumed in 1977, 295 Black defendants were executed for killing a white victim, but only 21 white defendants were executed for the killing of a Black victim even though Black people are disproportionately the victims of crime.

“If you're thinking about Black victims of crime, they are more likely to be the victims of homicide, but we've created this system where Black victims of crime are less likely to get the services they need, the clearance rate for those crimes is much lower,” said Ngozi Ndulue, author of the study. “Instead what we have is what is seen as the 'worst of the worst' being executed, and that means in many cases the person killed was white." The report also details several case studies in which race may be playing a role today, including a man named Pervis Payne, accused of the 1987 stabbing deaths of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter, Lacie Jo.

Payne told police he was at Christopher's apartment building in Millington, Tennessee, to meet his girlfriend when he saw a man in bloody clothes run past him. Payne, who is African American, has said he found and tried to help the victims, who were white, but panicked when he saw a white policeman and ran away. Payne is sentenced to die Dec. 3, but he has asked a judge to order DNA testing. At the time of his trial, DNA testing of evidence was unavailable, and no testing has ever been done in his case.

A request for DNA testing, in 2006, was refused based on a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that has since been overturned. His recent petition said police focused almost exclusively on him as a suspect, although nothing in his history suggested he would commit such a crime. He was a minister's son who never caused problems either as a child or a teenager.

But prosecutors alleged Payne was high on cocaine and looking for sex when he killed Christopher and her daughter in a “drug-induced frenzy.” The town of Millington is in Shelby County, which has the most death sentences and lynchings of any county in the state. The report also takes aim at the federal government's scheduling of executions. The first set were all white men, a move critics argue was a political calculation to avoid uproar.

The federal death penalty suffers the same racial bias, according to the report. Of the 57 people on federal death row, 34 are people of color, including 26 Black men, some convicted by all-white juries, the report found. Christopher Vialva, the first Black inmate on federal death row set to die this year, is scheduled to be executed next week.


TRENDING

OPINION / BLOG / INTERVIEW

New farm bills in India: Focusing on farms or farmers?

... ...

Kenya’s COVID-19 response: Chaos amid lack of information

Confusing numbers and scanty information on how effective curfews and lockdowns have been in breaking transmission have amplified coordination and planning challenges in Kenyas response to COVID-19. Without accurate data, it is impossible t...

Farkhad Akhmedov: Calculating the price of impunity from the law

In insistences such as the battle over the Luna, Akhmedov has resorted to extreme legal machinations to subvert the High Courts decision and keep his assets from being seized. ...

Guinea’s elections hearken back to the autocracy and violence of its past

... ...

Videos

Latest News

Development finance institutions pledge to sustain COVID-19 mitigation

Multilateral development finance institutions on Wednesday pledged to continue to collaborate in their efforts to mitigate the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerate the recovery of economies and livelihoods.At an extraordin...

Man U's Rashford keeps pressure on government to feed kids

Soccer star Marcus Rashfords campaign to feed poor students has sparked a partisan political battle that makes scoring goals for Manchester United seem trivial by comparison. The 22-year-old England international successfully lobbied Britis...

MERC dismisses BJP leader Somaiya's petition on inflated power bills

The Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission MERC on Thursday dismissed BJP leader Kirit Somaiyas petitions against inflated power bills, asking the former Member of Parliament to approach Consumer Grievance Redressal Forums CGRF inste...

Ensure police vigil in every road so that all people wear face mask: Allahabad HC to UP govt

The Allahabad High Court has directed the Uttar Pradesh government to ensure constant police surveillance in every road of the state so that all people wear face mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Hearing a public interest litigatio...

Give Feedback