Death Penalty Still Racist

Nov 272005
Authors: Ben Bleckley

Last Wednesday, President Bush pardoned turkeys Marshmallow and Yam, granting them lifetime clemency from Thanksgiving feasts.

The turkeys, having spent the night at the Hotel Washington, flew by United Airlines flight "Turkey One" to Anaheim, Calif., to grand marshal Disneyland's Thanksgiving Day Parade. They will live out the remainder of their days in a Disneyland petting zoo.

Robin Lovitt won't be so lucky. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection this Wednesday, the 1,000th person executed in the United States since reinstatement of the death penalty by the Supreme Court in 1976, according to the Washington Post.

An Arlington Circuit Court clerk mistakenly threw away DNA evidence in Lovitt's case. Although eyewitness accounts helped convict Lovitt of lethally stabbing a man in a robbery, the attorneys argue capital punishment should "be used only when every precaution has been taken to ensure that innocent persons are never executed," the team wrote in its petition for clemency.

While national statistics comparing Caucasian to minority death sentences are only proportionally unequal, in some states there are drastically more minority inmates on death row than Caucasians.

According to the 2004 Capital Punishment bulletin issued by the Department of Justice, 1,851 whites were on death row nationally compared to 1,390 African Americans. In Louisiana, however, the number of white to African American is 30 to 59, in Pennsylvania it is 77 to 134 and for Federal inmates it is 12 to 20.

This would suggest some state and federal systems still hand down capital sentences based partially on the color of a defendant's skin.

Furthermore, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, while about half of murder victims are white, 80 percent of capital convictions involve white victims. Race would appear to be an issue when it comes to the victim as well.

Of the 38 states that permit capital punishment, 14 allow capital punishment for crimes committed by children under the age of 18. The execution of minors was deemed unconstitutional in March 2005 by the United States Supreme Court with Roper v. Simmons.

According to the bulletin, the average death row inmate is held for 132 months, or 11 years, before execution. State and federal governments spend millions more on appeals to death sentences than on life terms according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Two years ago, Illinois governor George Ryan commuted 159 death sentences in his state to life terms.

"Because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious – and therefore immoral – I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death," Ryan was quoted in a Jan. 11, 2003 report by the BBC.

Capital punishment is a racist, costly process. Governors from all states should consider commuting their death row inmates to life terms without parole.

Ben Bleckley is a senior majoring in English. His column runs every Monday in the Collegian.

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