The student news site of Naperville North High School

Overselling the death penalty

May 26, 2014

This month, a prison in Oklahoma “botched” the execution of an inmate on death row. So, I wrote an advertisement for the death penalty. It goes like this: “Do you find yourself constantly wishing there was a systematically flawed, yet totally irreversible form of punishment? Do you frequently find yourself asking, ‘How can I inject my racial prejudice into the penal system?’ Are you always wondering how you could provide disillusionment to the families of slaughtered people? Then you’ll LOVE the death penalty!”

I am still writing an accompanying catchy jingle, but I’ve already choreographed a dance for the commercial. The dance is a musical interpretation of a person writhing in a chair called the “Oklahoma jig.” So far, it’s testing great with our focus groups (people who boost their egos by justifying discriminate murder).

First, let’s take a look at the who’s who of the death penalty compared to the race breakdown of the United States:

Black White
Composition of inmates on death row 1,285 (42%) 1,335 (43%)
Country’s black, white race distribution 13% 72%

On the surface level, a self-righteous person could reasonably declare the death penalty is, “Not racist!” However, closer examination reveals that it is entirely possible that Donald Sterling runs our justice system. The juxtaposition of the above race distributions show an overrepresentation of black people on death row. Racism becomes further apparent when we look at the victim’s race in cases where the defendant received the death penalty.

The New York Times reports, “In 77 percent of the executions in the U.S. since 1977, the condemned inmate was sentenced to death for killing a white person. Yet blacks make up about 50 percent of all homicide victims.”

The message this historical practice communicates is, “Kill a white person: see you in Hell. Kill a black person: literally whatever.” This systematic bias assigns greater value to a white person’s life by delivering his or her killer a harsher punishment.

If the 32 states that still allow the death penalty are comfortable manipulating another’s mortality (yikes!), the overt racism ingrained in the death penalty is cause for grave concern. And this racism is inherent to our justice system.

A study by the University of Florida found that, “[an examination of] Chief District Attorneys in states with the death penalty found that nearly 98% [of those district attorneys] are white.”

As one article argues, the disparity in the death penalty is not merely a matter of revising the policy. Rather, as I understand it, it is justification for the abolishment of the policy. As we inherit our innately broken justice system and become the naturally flawed contributors, we must understand its limitations. The death penalty is systematically racist – rather than row against the current of human bias, we must rob the riptide of its power.

It’s our turn to decide whether we buy the death penalty. The sales pitch will often come disguised by the phrase “capital punishment” (smothering the sentence’s severity, softening its reality) and will always claim justice. But when the salesmen come knocking, know what they’re really selling: an inherently racist and totally irreversible punishment. Their pitch will be, “Won’t you do the Oklahoma jig?”

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