[This is a guest post from SWPD reader jw, who adds the following self-description: "As a white German I see it as my responsibility that history never again can repeat itself. Without ideology I am politically left, embracing humanism and trying to be a part in the fight against the system of white supremacy. Anti-racism is more than just being against racism." jw also wrote recently about how white people "sacrifice the selves of their children"]
The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery. It is a punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, geography and local politics.
While it may seem that America is "tough on crime," the prison industry, along with the police and the judiciary, plays an important role of control and the demonstration of power.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world , at 737 persons imprisoned per 100,000. A report released Feb. 28, 2008 indicates that in the United States more than 1 in 100 adults is now confined in an American jail or prison. The United States has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's incarcerated population.
According to the Bureau of Justice, Blacks are almost three times more likely than Hispanics and five times more likely than whites to be in jail.
And while white supremacists use such statistics to "prove" their argument that Black people are more prone to crime than white folks, the real reasons for such high incarceration rates are racial profiling and the so-called "War on Drugs."
Human Rights Watch writes that
African-Americans are arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned for drug offenses at far higher rates than whites. This racial disparity bears little relationship to racial differences in drug offending. For example, although the proportion of all drug users who are black is generally in the range of 13 to 15 percent, blacks constitute 36 percent of arrests for drug possession. Blacks constitute 63 percent of all drug offenders admitted to state prisons. In at least fifteen states, black men were sent to prison on drug charges at rates ranging from twenty to fifty-seven times those of white men.
After slavery, slave patrollers, the KKK and Jim Crow, white control over Black people took on a new dimension, which is not "tough on crime" but tough on non-white people (and also poor white people).
Thus it is no surprise that the USA still practices the death penalty as another way of demonstrating its utmost power. America is a nation that still believes it should decide who has the right to live and who does not. However, the right to live is a Human Right, and the application of the death penalty is violating a basic human right in the name of "justice."
One argument for the death penalty is that it deters homicide. But as a New York Times study discovered, statistics do not demonstrate the efficiency of the death penalty.
The dozen states that have chosen not to enact the death penalty since the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that it was constitutionally permissible have not had higher homicide rates than states with the death penalty, government statistics and a new survey by The New York Times show.
Indeed, 10 of the 12 states without capital punishment have homicide rates below the national average, Federal Bureau of Investigation data shows, while half the states with the death penalty have homicide rates above the national average. In a state-by-state analysis, The Times found that during the last 20 years, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty has been 48 percent to 101 percent higher than in states without the death penalty.
The study by The Times also found that homicide rates had risen and fallen along roughly symmetrical paths in the states with and without the death penalty, suggesting to many experts that the threat of the death penalty rarely deters criminals.
The death penalty is also not actually used against the most brutal murderers. Instead, according to findings of Amnesty International,
a defendant was several times more likely to be sentenced to death if the murder victim was white. This confirms the findings of many other studies that, holding all other factors constant, the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim.
Underlying the statistical evidence is the differential treatment of African-Americans at every turn in the criminal justice system. From initial charging decisions to plea bargaining to jury sentencing, African-Americans are treated more harshly when they are defendants, and their lives are accorded less value when they are victims. Furthermore, all-white or virtually all-white juries are still commonplace in many localities.
That the justice system of America is seriously flawed is also proven by the many exonerations. "Since 1973, 129 people in 26 states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence." (deathpenaltyinfo.org)
Also, Troy Davis was sentenced to death 1991 without proof of his guilt. There is no physical evidence against him and his conviction is based on witness testimony. His execution was halted, but "on Monday, March 17, 2008, the Georgia Supreme Court decided 4-3 to deny a new trial for Troy Anthony Davis, despite significant concerns regarding his innocence. Today's stunning decision by the Georgia Supreme Court to let Mr. Davis' death sentence stand means that the state of Georgia might soon execute a man who may well be innocent." (amnestyusa.org)
A criminal justice system where race becomes an influential factor is no system of justice. And a society that acts as a silent bystander, sides with the injustice. This is how white supremacy works--as a system in which the powerful decide who has a right to freedom and to life itself, and who does not.