Death Penalty Essay Research Paper RACE AND

Death Penalty Essay, Research Paper


In 1977 the unjust law of capital punishment was once again enforced in the American justice system. The use of Capital punishment has instigated many discussions among American criminologists. The use of the death penalty as a form of justice has been banned from many countries and states but there are still a few American states that believe in this form of punishment. Some of them include Texas, Georgia and Virginia. There have been many academic articles that have discussed the general pros and cons of the death penalty, but there is one specific issue that stands out from the others. This issue includes racism and how it?s implicated in the capital punishment system. I will be summarizing and analyzing the key point as well as the rhetorical features of three articles written by researchers in the justice system.

There have been numerous debates about the involvement of racism in the death penalty system. Michael Kroll has been a part of these debates by revealing flaws and negative facts initiated by racism in the death penalty system. He wrote the article called ?Buckle Of The Death Belt.? This article deals with the specific judicial district of Chattahoochee, which is located in the state of Georgia. This state is also know as The Nation?s Executioner for its relatively high number of prisoners on death row per year.

Another article called ?Racial Disparities in Federal Death Penalty Prosecutions 1988-1994,? written by the subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, deals with the underlying principle that racial minorities are being prosecuted under federal death penalty law far beyond their proportion in the general population or the population of criminal offenders.

The third article is called ?The Death Penalty in Black and White: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides,? written by Richard C. Dieter. This report releases two new studies which show that the continuing injustice of racism in the application of the death penalty. All three articles are written for the general public and can be very informative for many reasons. I will focus on the key points of the articles, as well the important style and features of the articles, which makes the article more convincing to the audience. For these articles the main argument that the writer is trying to portray is racism does occur in the justice system and should be recognized and changed.

In the first article written by Michael Kroll, he states that the Chattahoochee Judicial District in Georgia is a microcosm of the national disgrace. Nearly 20 years after the supreme court held the death penalty as being unconstitutional, largely because of racial discrimination, the death penalty in America continues to reflect the worst part of the judicial system: racism, unequal treatment of the poor, and abuse of discretion by prosecutors and other politicians seeking higher positions. By the end of 1990, 20 people were imposed by the death penalty (Radelet). Out of those twenty, more than half were black men, who were tried by all-white juries. The District Attorney used his discretion to remove every black potential juror. While black people account for 65 percent of all homicide victims, the DA seeks the death penalty almost exclusively in white victims cases. Families of white murder victims are treated with dignity and respect by the DA?s office, while black victims families are abused or ignored. The DA has sought the death penalty in nearly 40 percent of the cases where the defendant was black and the victim white, in 32 percent of the cases where both defendant and victim were white, in just 6 percent of the cases where both the defendant and victim were black and never where the defendant was white and the victim black (Radelet).

Kroll emphasizes the fact that by executing more than any other state, 80 percent of them black, Georgia has earned the title,? The Nation?s Executioner.? The history of the death penalty in America can be seen in Georgia?s cases: Furman vs. Georgia (1972) [1] which resulted in the death penalty due to racial discrimination (Douglas), Gregg vs. Georgia (1976), Coker vs. Georgia (1977) [2] as well as many others were seen to have sentenced the defendant to death despite strong evidence that race of victim is the most important variable in predicting who will be sentenced to death. Kroll?s argument about the presence of racism in the decision of the DA is strongly supported by the statistics and facts, but racist action is very difficult to prove since racism is a feeling, and it is very difficult to obtain strong evidence of the feelings of people. Although sometimes the evidence is present, it is disregarded. For example in four different capital trials in Georgia the defense layer referred to his client as ?nigger? (Kroll). Even after these derogatory comments, no action was taken by the court to ensure an equal trial for the prosecutor and defendant. Even so, Kroll?s logical approach to the case gives a very convincing argument. He does this by providing graphs and charts that show clearly the trends that prove his point. These are some of the important graphs and charts, which he presents in his article:

1) Black Capital Defendants Convicted In Chattahoochee Judicial District Through 1990*

Defendant Date of Sentence DA’s Discretionary Juror Strikes Jury Composition Verdict

White Black White Black

Mulligan 11/4/76 4 4 12 0 death

Bowden 12/9/76 0 10 12 0 death

Graves 2/17/77 4 4 12 0 life

Gates 9/1/77 unavailable unavailable 12 0 death

Brooks 11/18/77 6 5 12 0 death

Hance 12/16/78 1 9 11 1 death

Lewis 7/19/79 1 8 12 0 death

Hance 5/12/84 1 7 11 1 death

Gary 8/27/86 5 5 9 3 death

Bright 7/13/90 3 7 8 4 death

* The DA sought the death penalty 38.7 percent of the time when the defendant was black and the victim white, 32.4 percent when both defendant and victim were white, 5.9 percent when both defendant and victim were black, and never when the defendant was white and the victim black;


*(Statistical research for Figures 3, 4, 5 and 6 provided by Michael L. Radelet, PH.D., University of Florida, Gainesville)

Towards the end of his article he shifts his focus to a broader view of the United States. For example, in Philadelphia, a single judge is responsible for sentencing 26 people to death- two of whom were white. Secondly, A Native American in California had his original death sentence reversed because of prevailing racism in the sentencing county, and was acquitted at retrial in a different county. Of the 148 people executed nationwide since 1977, nearly 90 percent were sentenced for killing white people, though black people continue to be victims of murder at a rate six times greater than white people (Ibid). Kroll presents a very disturbing fact that since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970?s, not a single white person has been executed for taking the life of a black person. By stating various examples Kroll clearly illustrates using a logical as well as an emotional approach that racism has a direct effect on the use of the death penalty. This emotional approach is seen when he provides detailed stories of certain people. Such as:

? Johnny Johnson came home from church in 1984 to find the body of his wife, her throat cut. His one contact with officials occurred when he was briefly jailed on suspicion of her murder. Ultimately, an arrest was made, but Mr. Johnson was not informed either of the arrest or of the trial and sentencing. “They didn’t tell me nothing,” he testified. [3]

? Gloria Tells daughter was murdered in 1984. She learned by reading the papers that her daughter’s boyfriend had committed the murder. She was only informed of the preliminary hearing when she phoned the county jail to inquire. No one from the DA’s office ever bothered to contact her. [4]

The use of ethos and logos is also noticed when Kroll states the opinions of others. For example Former Columbus Superior Court Judge, Albert Thompson, recently described the justice system as having “two faces: one white and one black [5].” Kroll also uses the specific dialog between the defendant and the judge to show emphasize on the corruption of the system. His article is very thorough and convincing. He ends the article with the following quote:

…We remain imprisoned by the past as long as we deny its influence in the present. It is tempting to pretend that minorities on death row share a fate in no way connected to our own, that our treatment of them sounds no echoes beyond the chambers in which they die. Such an illusion is ultimately corrosive, for the reverberations of injustice are not so easily confined. [6]

The subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights can also appreciate this quote. Since they believe in the same general ideas of the death penalty as Kroll?s argument, that racial discrimination is a continuing factor in the actions of the justice system. The article also uses a similar stylistic approach to Kroll?s by the use of many graphs and facts to show patterns of inequality. Except this article focuses on not only the black and white race but also other races such as Asian and Hispanic:

3) 4)

The following graphs #3 and #4 were made by the facts from the November 18, 1988, 21 U.S.C SS848 (e)-(q)

The committee Analysis of prosecution under the federal death penalty reveals that 89 percent of the defendants selected for capital prosecution has been either African-American or Mexican-American [7]. Moreover the number of prosecutions has been increasing over the past two years with no decline in the racial disparities. All ten of the recently approved federal capital prosecutions have been against black defendants. This pattern of inequality adds to the mounting evidence that race continues to play an unacceptable part in the application of capital punishment in America today.

This article focuses more on the federal level where the cases discussed have almost exclusively involved minority defendants. Whereas in the previous article, written by Kroll, focused more on the district or state level, where racial disparities are most obvious in the selection of cases involving white victims. The racial disparities in the federal records are much more than that of the specific states. The writer successfully asks the audience to develop an understanding using the facts and patterns shown, that racism is a factor in the justice system involving the death penalty. The writer uses a very descriptive mode of development similar to one that is used in the article written by Richard C. Dieter. By thoroughly explaining and describing different situations in which racism is involved in the decisions of the court, helps to enhance the strength of the argument.

The article written by Richard C. Dieter contains two studies, which show the continuing injustice of racism in the application of the death penalty. The first study documents the infectious presence of racism in the death penalty and demonstrates that this problem has not decreased with time. The other study identifies one of the potential causes for the continuing crisis: those who are making the critical death penalty decisions in this country are almost exclusively white.

From the days of slavery in which black people were considered property, through the years of various laws and attempts to gain equality, capital punishment has always been deeply affected by race. Unfortunately the days of racial bias in the death penalty are not left in the past.

Dieter talks about the studies of two of the countries foremost researchers on race and capital punishment, law professor David Baldus and statistician George Woodworth, along with colleagues in Philadelphia, who have conducted a careful analysis of race and the death penalty in Philadelphia, which reveal that the odds of receiving a death sentence are nearly four times higher if the defendant is black (Woodworth). These results were obtained after analyzing and controlling for case differences such as the severity of the crime and the background of the defendant. The data were subjected to various forms of analysis, but the conclusion was clear: blacks were being sentenced to death far in excess of other defendants for similar crimes.

The rest of the article contains facts and statistics to prove the above statements. One thing that this writer does to make his argument very convincing is not only to use strong facts and statistics but he uses a form of ethos to appeal to the emotions of the reader. He does this by showing pictures of various people and stating their opinions about the death penalty word for word. He uses not only a descriptive mode of development but also and example ? illustration method in which he uses various situations and compares them.

All three articles present a similar stand in which they all present arguments that state that racism does indeed play a major role in the actions of the capital punishment system. These articles convey strong negative messages to the use of the death penalty as a form of justice. This negativity is passed on very effectively to the reader by the stylistic methods used by the authors. These methods include very thorough research and statistics as well as an emotional appeal, which makes them convincing and logical and in the end increases the strength of their argument. The articles should be read by the government and justice department, that control the use of the death penalty, specifically the government of the southern states in which the death penalty is predominant. I believe that the author?s main ideas are true and that this form of punishment is very unjust to the minority. There should either be a reformation of the system or the system should be banned all together due to its unethical and unmoral treatment of mankind.


the study of crime.


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