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A Sacrificial Constituency

Washington Examiner

There is no clear ideological difference between America’s two major parties concerning the death penalty. The simple answer is the majority of voters agree with the death penalty. But the problem with that, especially for Democrats, is that racial attitudes have a lot to do with death row racial demographics. Those attitudes are not exclusive to white conservatives. A 2007 national study by Mark Peffley and Jeff Hurwitz concluded that whites are more supportive of the death penalty when they learn black people are sentenced to death more than white people. A Stanford study concluded whites are more likely to support racially biased policies like stop and frisk and the three strikes law upon learning of the racial disparities in the prison population

The death penalty is not a partisan issue.  Jimmy Carter, currently renowned for pacifism and compassion, helped to revoke a death penalty moratorium, conforming it to the constitutional standards of the Supreme Court. California rivals Texas with its death row population, racial disparities included. Then-presidential candidate Gov. Bill Clinton used for political gain the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a black man with an IQ so low that executing him today would be illegal.

According to a study in Philadelphia, black people are almost 4 times more likely to receive a death sentence than a white defendant for a similar crime. As a result, black people, who are 14% of Pennsylvania’s population, are 83% of its death row population. In Maryland, a state-sponsored study showed black defendants were more likely to receive the death penalty if the victim is white (ibid). The two counties with the highest number of death sentences in Maryland have the highest number of black defendants accused of killing a white victim (ibid). In Georgia, black defendants are four times more likely to receive a death sentence when the victim is white. Similar disparities exist in Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Missouri, according to studies dating back to the 1980s. Again, this is not a partisan issue.

Despite this information, and a Supreme Court case highlighting it, Democrats continue to support the death penalty. No more Willie Horton ads. And despite this information, African Americans vote for Democrats en masse. A sacrificial constituency. Is racial solidarity only for the socially assimilated, that elusive middle class? It would seem so because the record number of prisoners exonerated from death row sentences in 2015 didn’t warrant a hashtag. What is missing from the conversation on mass incarceration, besides poverty as the main undercurrent, is the death penalty. The number of incarcerated people more than doubled by 1999, so did the number of inmates on death row. How do liberals fight racism sincerely and not fight to end the death penalty?

Written by L.P. Hatfield

B.A. Political Science from Indiana University.

L.P. is a Guest Contributor to Progressive Army.

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SPLASH! Recap of January 5, 2017

A Sacrificial Constituency