Report Confirms Racist Nature of Death Penalty


By: Michael Stark

There is a stronger link between race and the death penalty than between smoking and heart disease, according to a newly released report by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). The report - titled "The Death Penalty in Black and White: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides" - adds to the overwhelming evidence that the death penalty in the U.S. is racist.

The report includes two new studies on race and capital punishment. In one, researchers cite examples of black defendants being treated in an openly racist manner in the courtroom. One such example reads, "In preparing for the penalty phase of an African-American defendant's trial, a white judge in Florida said in open court: "Since the nigger mom and dad are here anyway, why don't we go ahead and move to the penalty phase today instead of having to subpoena them back at cost to the state.'" Anthony Peek was sentenced to death, and the sentence was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court in 1986 when it reviewed his claim of racial bias.

Law professor David Baldus and statistician George Woodworth examine the effect of racial bias on Philadelphia's death row - one of the largest death rows in the country at 118. The study shows, among other things, that the odds of receiving a death sentence in Philadelphia are nearly four times higher for black defendants than for others. It also shows that the "racial combination which was most likely to result in a death sentence was a black defendant with a non-black victim, regardless of how severe the murder committed."

The second study, by Professor Jeffrey Pokorak and researchers at St. Mary's University Law School, examines key decision makers in death penalty cases across the U.S. and finds that they are almost exclusively white males. For instance, the study showed that 97.5% of District Attorneys in the U.S. are white, and almost all of them are men.

Another startling section of the report reveals how Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Jack McMahon trained new prosecutors on how to keep blacks off juries without giving the appearance of racism. McMahon's statements in his training video included, "Young black women are very bad" and "Blacks from low-income areas are less likely to convict." His tape went so far as to threaten to fire new prosecutors who did not follow racist practices: "If you go in there and any one of you think you're going to be some noble civil libertarian... you'll lose, and you'll be out of the office."

This report offers powerful arguments to anyone who still needs convincing that the death penalty is racist to the core.

(To obtain a copy of this report send $5 to The Death Penalty Information Center, 1320 18th Street, N.W., Fifth Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036)