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Cultural Diversity: Racial Disparity in the Application of the Death Penalty

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Cultural Diversity: Racial Disparity in the

Application of the Death Penalty

The death penalty is one of the most controversial issues on American soil, surpassed only by those condemned to the wages of this irrefutable sin. Minorities such as African-Americans and Hispanics, aggregate this continuous barrage of discrimination. Follow along, and rediscover capital punishment from a black writer's point of view.

Blacks are more likely to face the death penalty than whites in the commission of identical crimes. Governmental murders are alive and well in the good ole USA. The history of capital punishment dates back to the days before Christ. The Old Testament adage "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," has survived throughout the ages despite the New Testament's rendition of "thou shall not kill". Today's American victims endure a more demure of style of cruel and unusual punishment; death by lethal injection has been selected to replaced barbaric traditions of the past.

Statistics prove that for many years the death penalty has fallen disproportionately on racial minorities in the United States. For example, since 1930 nearly 90% of those executed for the crime of rape in this country were African-Americans, and currently, about 50% of those on the nation's death rows are from minority populations representing only 20% of this country's population. Nearly 40% of those executed since 1976 have been black, even though blacks constitute only 12% of the population. And in almost every death penalty case, the race of the victim is white. Of the 229 executions that have occurred since the death penalty was reinstated, only one has involved a white defendant for the murder of a black person (Race and the Death Penalty, 2003). Does this mean that minorities are inherently criminals, or is there an undercurrent of racial segregation affecting the views of the majority in our society? T.V. shows, such as Cops, often depict persons of color as the criminal element, reinforcing the myth that minorities are to be feared.

Blacks are sentenced to jail and the death penalty more often that any other minority in America. As the national inmate population has increased in recent decades, the impact of these changes on minority communities has been particularly dramatic. Two-thirds of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities, and for black males in their twenties, one in every eight is in prison or jail on any given day. Moreover, black males born today have a one in three chance of going to prison during their lifetime, compared to a one in seventeen chance for white males. These trends have been exacerbated by the impact of the "war on drugs," with three-fourths of all drug offenders being persons of color, far out of proportion to their share of drug users in society (The Sentencing Project: Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, 2004).

Racial disparity in the criminal justice system is a product of a number of factors -crime, offenses such drugs, social and economic disparities, legislative policies, and the use of discretion by the criminal justice system. Social and economic disparities have faces and many are of color.

African-Americans are more likely than others to have social histories that include poverty, exposure to neighborhood violence, and exposure to crime-prone role models. For example, African-American children with no prior admissions to the juvenile justice system were six times more likely to be incarcerated in a public facility than white children with the same background that were charged with the same offense. A major study sponsored by the Department of Justice in the early 1980s noted that juvenile justice system processing appears to be counterproductive, placing minority children at a disproportionately greater risk of subsequent incarceration (Deadly Statistics: A Survey of Crime and Punishment, 2000). This writer's grandmother retired after more than thirty years as a welfare social worker for Los Angeles County. She has stated on more than occasion that the government is the main reason that most black men are in jail awaiting the death penalty today. In the sixties and early seventies, she says that women on welfare were not allowed to have men in the home, even the father of the children. These fatherless generations of men seem more prone to crime, and are creating another generation of fatherless children by being irresponsible or jailed.

The criminal justice system itself is racially biased and allowed to continue, unchallenged in its unfair practice of racial disparity in the application of capital punishment. In 1997, David Baldus and statistician George Woodworth examined the death penalty rates among all death eligible defendants in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania between the years of 1983 and 1993. The results of their study proved that the odds of receiving the death penalty in Philadelphia increased by 38% when the accused was black (Deadly Statistics: A Survey of Crime and Punishment, 2000). The discretion of judges and juries imposing the death penalty enables the penalty to be selectively applied, feeding prejudices against the accused if he or she is poor and despised, and lacking political clout, or if he or she is a member of an unpopular minority.

Another major problem is that African-American capital defendants do not have African-American representation on their juries. In order to see how race-linked differences come about, the author conducted a statistical analysis according to race and gender categories. The study found that white jurors of both genders are much less receptive to mitigating evidence than black jurors: 63% of white male jurors reported thinking of the black defendant as dangerous to others, whereas only 26.7% of black male jurors thought of the black defendant as dangerous. While 46.7% of black male jurors said the black defendant was sorry for what he did, only 7.4% of white male jurors said the defendant was sorry. While 42.1% of black women acknowledged a defendant's emotional disturbance, only 12.0% of white women described the same defendant as emotionally unstable or disturbed. Black male jurors were significantly more likely than others to imagine themselves in the situation of the defendant's family (Racial Disparities in Federal Death Penalty Prosecutions 1988-1994).

And if the jury situation isn't bad enough, the fact that the majority of minority death row inmates were, and or is being represented by court appointed public defenders is a well-known issue to the criminal justice students at the University of Phoenix. Public defenders are usually paid a monthly salary regardless of caseload. It is unknown if they are given adequate time to prepare for



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