Capital Punishment in America
Much has been said and many will weigh in on the unfortunate case of Troy Davis in the coming days. His execution in Jackson, Georgia last night at 11:08PM raised national awareness about the racial disparity in the Justice System in America. I was at the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC when I heard the news. More specifically, capital punishment, as administered in the United States, disproportionately affects individuals of color. But I would wager that the average person does not know just how prevalent the death penalty is in the United States. I’d like to delve into the issue with some cold, hard facts and leave it up to you readers to decide if you’d like to support the ultimate form of punishment.*
By the end of 2009, 36 States and the Federal Bureau of Prisons held 3,173 individuals under a sentence of death. This is down 37 individuals from 2008, and is the ninth consecutive year that the total number has decreased. Four states (California, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida) held HALF of all the inmates on Death Row in 2009. What may come as a surprise to some is that of all the prisoners on death row, 56% were white, and 42% were black. 98% of these individuals were male.
More whites than blacks, and vastly more men than women folks.
Moving along, it may come as a surprise to many the method of execution that is still allowable in these United States. Troy Davis was executed via lethal injection, which all States that employ the death penalty utilize. Some other methods that the States sanction to take a life:
Hanging . . .yes Hanging: Delaware, New Hampshire, Washington
Firing squad: Oklahoma and Utah
Starting to get appalled yet? No. Well, it gets worse.
More than one third of those under a sentence of death in 2009 had no prior felony convictions. (34.3%)
Going back to the method of execution, it is interesting to see which States utilize which methods predominantly. Florida prefers electrocution over lethal injection. 44 to 24 respectively. Georgia was split evenly between the two in 2009. Louisiana had nearly 3 times more electrocutions than lethal injections in the same year. All 447 persons executed in the Great State of Texas were killed via lethal injection.
A word on Texas. You’ve heard it before, but this state literally blazes a trail when it comes to killing people. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Texas has executed FOUR TIMES as many people as the next closest State, Virginia. 447 to 105 respectively.
Statistics tend to desensitize the public from the reality which they purport to illustrate. Each of these number was a human being. Regardless of their objective guilt or innocence, they were killed. The media speaks in terms of those who deserve execution and those who do not. I, for one, am not ready to make that kind of judgement. Did Troy Davis deserve to die? His family says unequivocally “No!” The McPhail family, “Yes!” Was justice done? Who knows.
What this blogger does know is that the death penalty is an objective reality in the United States. More States are abolishing it every year. Will complete abolition come in this blogger’s lifetime? I think that is very likely. They way it will probably happen is through ballot initiatives in each State. The Supreme Court abolished it once before, and in my modest legal opinion is unlikely to make that sweeping move again. If you feel strongly that it should be gone: MAKE IT HAPPEN. PETITION YOUR LEGISLATURE.
Numbers represent real people. Real lives. One less heart beating. You can change this, if only you’d try.
Continue to question the world around you.
*All data comes from the Bureau of Justice Statics 2009 annual report on Capital Punishment