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Another Reason to Abolish the Death Penalty

W. Scott Cole

Posted on December 6, 2019 19:57

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In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Furman v. Georgia, declared the death penalty unconstitutional in all 50 states. They said it’s application was arbitrary and capricious and was basically no more than a lottery reserved for the poor and the marginalized. Then in 1976, the death penalty came back to life in Gregg v. Georgia. The question we need to ask is, “is the modern death penalty era more fair?”

In 1985, Texas executed a man named Henry Martinez Porter for the shooting death of a police officer. Porter never denied that he pulled the trigger, but had a very believable claim of self-defence. His last words were, “The only thing that convicted me was that I am a Mexican and that he was a police officer.”

His words have the ring of truth. In the first decade after Gregg v. Georgia, the number of Hispanics on death row more than tripled (actually, it only took five years to reach that figure). Today, there is one bit of good news about the use of the death penalty: it is being used less and less each year. In that first decade (1977-1986), there were 2,022 people sentenced to death in the U.S. In the last decade (2009-2018), there were 685.

The bad news is that it seems to be misused far more than it ever was before 1972. The increase in racial disparity is astonishing. In that same first decade, death penalty recipients in Texas were 51% minorities. In the last 10 years, that number stands at 75% and of the seven sentenced to death in Texas in 2018, all are minorities. In California, those numbers rose from 52% to 78% and in Oklahoma, it grew from 29% to 80%.

In 2016, death penalty sentences hit a new low of 31. Eighteen of them (57%) were black. White people came in a distant second with six (20%), There were 4 Latino (13%) and 3 Asian (10%). Colorado has three people on death row right now. All three are black. Is it just a coincidence that all three went to the same high school?

Since Gregg v. Georgia revived the death penalty through to 2018, a total of 7,335 have been sentenced to die. Of those, 1,448 have been executed. There are currently 2,752 prisoners on death row, and 3,135 are no longer on death row. Of those no longer on death row, 2,373 were resentenced to a lesser penalty, 592 have died awaiting execution, 333 have been released from prison, and 132 have been found to be innocent of the crime that put them on death row.

It is that last number that bothers me the most. Of 7,335 people, almost two per cent have been able to overcome the barriers placed in their paths and proven they were innocent. Two per cent may be a small number, but how many more of those 7,335 were also innocent and were unable to get the evidence into court to prove it before the executioner came for them? My opinion is that a conservative figure would be at least double that amount.

Even if it is half that many, knowing we have murdered so many innocent people in the name of justice should raise an outcry across the country for the abolition of an unfairly applied death penalty.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on December 6, 2019 19:57

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Source: NYT
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