As a conservative, I was not always in favor of ending the death penalty. I became conflicted about the practice as an adult; and as an attorney, I began to recognize the inherent flaws, bad incentives and corruption in the system.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been championing a piece of legislation that would end the death penalty in Wyoming. There are a growing number of conservatives who agree with me.
Nearly half of the legislature has signed on to my bill, and we expect to pass it within the next year.
A new study from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), “Enduring Injustice: the Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty,” continues to drive home the reasons that those who believe in limited government, individual liberty and protecting the sanctity of human life are turning against this antiquated policy.
At this point, most people know that the death penalty is overrun with errors.
We’ve had one person exonerated for every nine executions in this country and continue to find more. That’s a big deal. No one who claims to stand for pro-life values can credibly stand by such a system.
But in the report, we learn just how much more likely it is for Black people to be wrongfully convicted in this country. They are 50 percent more likely to be wrongfully charged, tried, and convicted for a crime.
Given those figures, it is likely that the U.S. regularly executes innocent people.
The study also shows some pretty shocking graphics that illustrate the progression of the country’s practice of lynching to the modern-day death penalty system. In the first graph, you can see a mapping of where we know lynchings occurred in this country.
And in this second graph you can see where executions have predominately taken place in the country since reinstatement of the death penalty.
Prior to this report, we also already knew that the location where a crime is committed is the leading determinant in sentencing for capital punishment.
Only 2 percent of counties bring most death penalty cases, and all executions have come from fewer than 16 percent of our counties. And we knew that the race of the victim and defendant played a significant part in who received harsher punishments as well.
But the study takes this data a step forward and places it in its proper historical context – examining how Black people’s lives were weighted less under our laws for centuries, and tying that to our current reality where crimes against Black victims are less likely to be solved.
Additionally, while most violent crime is perpetrated against people of the same race as the victim (most crime is committed by people known to the victim as well), the study found that the death penalty was used most often against Black defendants in cases with a white victim, to the tune of 295 executions versus only 21 instances of the reverse being carried out.
All of this shows that the system is operating in a highly biased way, that not only means Black people are more likely to be executed in this country, but also shows they are far more likely to be executed wrongfully.
These facts should compound the reasons to stand for repeal for those who are ideologically consistent and claim to support limited government, individual liberty, and pro-life causes.
This system fails to live up to those values in every way. It also should be of paramount concern if the government is carrying out state violence, ever, but especially if that state violent is disproportionately directed at one group of people.
We must live out our values and be principled.
It’s time for Republicans to lead on defeating racial bias at the hands of our government.
Jared Olsen is a Wyoming state representative from Cheyenne. He welcomes readers’ comments