A “Fair” Price?: The Death Penalty and Race
Troy Davis’ life ended yesterday, but racial prejudice has not. Was Troy Davis killed because he was black? Many human rights activists, political leaders, the Pope and even the Twitter community are responding with a screaming “YES!”.
Since Americans have the right to a jury of their peers, many people wonder if Davis’ 1991 death sentence was convicted by a fair jury. Let’s see the racial breakdown.
Racial Profile of the 12 Jury Members on Davis’ 1991 Trial:
5 Caucasian/ 7 African American
In terms of race, Davis’ jury appears fair….but race might not reveal all. Maybe these racial “peers” had biases stemming from their careers, experiences, age or gender that led all 12 to convict Davis. Maybe the jury selection process was at fault. Or maybe the process was fair, and Troy Davis truly was a murderer.
But what if Troy had been white?
Here’s a snapshot of the relationship between death penalty sentencing and race:
Statistics since 1976, from Amnesty International:
-50% of murder victims are black, yet 77% of death row executions came from cases with white murder victims
–cases with a black victim only account for 15% of death penalty convictions
–“one-third of African-American death row inmates in Philadelphia would have received sentences of life imprisonment [instead of execution] if they had not been African-American”
–“African-American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white. In addition, killers of white victims are treated more severely than people who kill minorities, when it comes to deciding what charges to bring”
So there’s a quick take. While we don’t have a detailed picture of each individual trial, the overall picture is clear: blacks and whites have unequal outcomes for equal charges. More blacks than whites are executed as a penalty for murder.
Troy Davis is neither the first nor last example of this discrepancy.
Is there any way to refuse to let Davis die in vain, and make sure there is true “liberty and justice for all” in our court system?