Friday, September 23, 2011

The Death Penalty: Is It Just?

Photo Credit: buschap
Did you know that although African Americans make up approximately half of all homicides victims in this country, only 15% of those who receive the death penalty received their penalty after being accused of killing a black person? On the other hand, over 3/4 of those executed in death penalty cases received their punishment as a result of killing a white person. Why the discrepancy?

The recent execution of Troy Davis, an African American who was convicted of killing a police officer over twenty years ago, has shed light once again on the apparent inequities of our criminal justice system, especially as it pertains to the death penalty. For many in the African American community, the case of Davis, whom many believe to be wrongly convicted, demonstrates that our courts place a higher value on the life of white people more so than black people. I do not know if Troy Davis was innocent or if he deserved to die. But there is enough evidence concerning how the death penalty is applied to cause us to consider our stance on this important issue. Joel Dreyfuss comments:
"Our uneasiness about fairness in America helps explain why Troy Davis became such an obsession in the African-American community, to the bewilderment, if not outright annoyance, of some of our nonblack neighbors. As the hours ticked down, it seemed that all of black America was glued to their televisions, computers, mobile phones and iPads, as if watching a perverse 2011 version of a Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling bout.

But in this case we were not waiting for our black champion to knock out the German and prove our worth to America. We wanted reassurance that the fundamental precept of reasonable doubt would apply to Troy Davis, a black man, and, by extension, to the rest of us.

Yes, black America still lives on the brink of fear. For all the progress we have made, dues we have paid, degrees we have acquired and presidencies we have won, we can all recite the story of the father, son, daughter or niece who has gone from citizen to suspect in an instant -- the son frisked, the cousin shoved against the car, the uncle badly beaten -- and, more often than should be, the nephew convicted of a crime he didn't commit or, worse, shot dead by the police.

Most Americans long ago grew bored with the statistics verifying that African Americans are more likely than whites to encounter the power of the state and to be more severely treated -- in arrests, in charges, in sentencing or, yes, the death penalty. As Sherrilyn Ifill points out in her column for The Root, the racial disparities in imposing the death penalty were proved long ago, but the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1986 that the race gap was not unconstitutional. If you are far more likely to be condemned to death for killing a white man, how can there not be a constitutional issue?

It is now clear to us that the election of Barack Obama has not miraculously transformed the standing of African Americans. For those of us who have long believed that race was far more important as a signal of political status than as a genetic marker, Troy Davis reminds us that there are American citizens -- and then there are African-American citizens."
On a personal level, I do not believe the death penalty is inherently unethical when dealing with the punishment of those that have taken the life of another (Genesis 9:6). But as has been proven time and again within the American justice system, the death penalty, as it is carried out within the United States, is inherently biased when consideration is given to the ethnicity of victims, the race of their accused killers and the financial resources that the accused have at their disposal.

Along with the increased use of DNA evidence in criminal cases, there have been multiple examples of those on death row who were let go because they had been wrongly convicted. Unless we have a system that fairly treats both victims and the accused fairly, regardless of race or class, then I will continue to remain opposed to the use of lethal punishment for those accused of the crime of murder. Allowing the guilty to go free is wrong but so is killing innocent people because they happen to have brown skin or don't have enough money to properly defend themselves in court.

To read the complete article by Joel Dreyfuss on please click here.

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