Report Documents Racial Bias in Death Penalty

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“The death penalty has been used to enforce racial hierarchies throughout United States history, beginning with the colonial period and continuing to this day,” says the Death Penalty Information Center in a new report. The report was written by Ngozi Ndulue, former NAACP’s Senior Director of Criminal Justice Programs. Center director Robert Dunham says that, “With the continuing police and white vigilante killings of Black citizens, it is even more important now to focus attention on the outsized role the death penalty plays as an agent and validator of racial discrimination” Racial bias persists today, as evidenced by cases involving white victims more likely to be investigated and capitally charged; systemic exclusion of jurors of color from service in death-penalty trials; and disproportionate imposition of death sentences against defendants of color, the center says.

A 2015 meta-analysis of 30 studies showed that the killers of whites were more likely than the killers of Blacks to face a capital prosecution. A North Carolina study showed that qualified Black jurors were struck from juries at more than twice the rate of qualified white jurors. Since executions resumed in 1977, 295 African-American defendants have been executed for the murder of a white victim, while only 21 white defendants have been executed for the murder of an African American. A 2014 mock jury study of more than 500 Californians found that white jurors were more likely to sentence poor Latinx defendants to death than poor white defendants.

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