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Six Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty 1

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The death penalty is racist.
The death penalty punishes the poor.
The death penalty condemns the innocent to die.
The death penalty is not a deterrent to violent crime.
The death penalty is "cruel and unusual punishment."
The death penalty fails to recognize that guilty people have the potential to change, denying them the opportunity to ever rejoin society.

The United States is the only country in the Western industrialized world that still uses the death penalty. Since 1990, 30 countries have abolished the death penalty. Among the 74 countries who continue to execute, a tiny group accounts for the vast majority of the world’s executions each year— China, Iran, Vietnam and the United States.

In the U.S., more than 3,200 people live on death row. Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated, more than 1,200 people have been executed in the United States. More than three-quarters took place in southern states—and over 35 percent in Texas alone.

For decades, both Republicans and Democrats have competed to be “tough on crime,” and throughout the 1980s and ’90s, executions skyrocketed. More recently, however, public support for the death penalty has declined. An October 2005 Gallup Poll found support for the death penalty was 64 percent, down from a high of 80 percent in 1994—and 2006 also saw the lowest number of executions in 30 years.

What follows are six reasons why you should oppose the death penalty.

Number 1: The death penalty is racist.

The death penalty is applied in a racially biased manner. This bias extends not only to the race of the defendants singled out for death sentences but also to the race of the victim. When it comes to the death penalty, the lives of minorities are valued less than that of whites.

African Americans are 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 42 percent of prisoners on death row. In Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Maryland, and in the U.S. military and federal system, more than 60 percent of those on death row are Black; Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Ohio all have death rows where more than 50 percent are African American. Although Blacks constitute approximately 50 percent of murder victims each year, 80 percent of the victims in death penalty cases were white, and only 14 percent were Black.

Of the over 18,000 executions that have taken place in this country’s history, only 42 involved a white person being punished for killing a Black person.

According to Amnesty International, more than 20 percent of Black defendants executed since 1976 were convicted by all-white juries.

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that death penalty laws in the U.S. were unconstitutional, in part because capital punishment was rife with racial disparities.

Murder by the pound

Michael Goggin, a former prosecutor in Cook County, Illinois, admitted that the district attorney’s office ran a contest to see which prosecutor could be the first to convict defendants whose weight totaled 4,000 pounds. Men and women upon conviction were marched into a room and weighed. Because most of the defendants were Black, the competition was known by local officials as “Niggers by the Pound.”

Number 2: The death penalty punishes the poor.

“One searches our chronicles in vain for the execution of any member of the affluent strata in this society." --Justice William O. Douglas

“There is something wrong in this country; the judicial nets are so adjusted as to catch the minnows, and let the whales slip through.” --Eugene V. Debs

If you can afford good legal representation, you won’t end up on death row.

Over 90 percent of defendants charged with capital crimes are indigent and cannot afford an experienced criminal defense attorney. They are forced to use inexperienced, underpaid and overworked lawyers.

Many capital trials last less than a week—-hardly enough time to present a good defense. The results are predictable. It is clear that had O.J. Simpson been poor, he would now be on death row, innocent or guilty.

Good representation is a luxury

“The reality in the United States today is that representation by a capable attorney is a luxury, one few of those accused of a crime or in prison can afford. There is a temptation to give up hope that the poor person who faces the loss of life or liberty or languishes in prison will ever receive adequate representation. Legislatures will not pay for it, most courts will not order it, and most members of the bar are unwilling or financially unable to represent a poor person in a criminal case without adequate compensation.” (Source: “Neither Equal nor Just,” Stephen Bright, president, Southern Center for Human Rights)

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