The death penalty has been used in the U.S. to enforce racial hierarchies since colonial times, according to a report released Tuesday by the Death Penalty Information Center. The report, Enduring Injustice: the Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty, examines the way that people of color – particularly Black Americans – have disproportionately faced executions, lynchings, and police killings.
Race affects every stage of a death-penalty case. Race of the victim is one of the greatest predictors of who will be sentenced to death and executed. That report found a person was 17 times more likely to be executed for murdering a white victim than a nonwhite victim. The 87-page report notes that of the 57 people presently on federal death row, 34 are persons of color. More than two dozen are Black men and some were convicted by all-White juries. The report found that between 1990 and 2010, 20% of inmates scheduled for execution in North Carolina were sentenced by all-White juries, and qualified Black jurors were disqualified at more than twice the rate of their White counterparts in almost 200 capital cases.
According to the DPIC report, 13% of the 823 Blacks convicted of rape in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee between 1945 and 1965 were sentenced to death. During the same period, just 2% of 442 white men convicted of rape were sentenced to death. The same disparities were seen in executions, the DPIC found. Of the 455 men executed for rape in the U.S. between 1930 and 1972, 405 — or 89% — were Black and 443 of the 455 occurred in former Confederate states, the report says.