Critical Thinking Essay

Title: Death Penalty

 

Contents

Project Proposal 2

Annotated Bibliography. 3

Report 7

Conclusion. 13

References. 14

 

Project Proposal

The issue of death penalty has for a long time remained a highly controversial subject in the United States. One of the major source of these controversies is that the penalty is being used as a tool of perpetuating racial discrimination and prejudice. In fact, many movements have been arguing that the death penalty should be halted by invoking this racial dimension to the debate (Lanier & Acker, 2004). This paper is based on the thesis that white Americans support the death penalty in order to use it as a tool of racial prejudice against racial minorities.

I intend to defend this thesis by first and foremost arguing that racial minorities have historically borne the greatest brunt of the death penalty in the hands of the dominant white American population. Another argument that I will promote to defend the thesis is that federal and state authorities have largely been unsuccessful in ensuring that the death penalty is not seen to be targeting racial minorities more than the rest of the American population. Furthermore, I will also argue that many individuals belonging to racial minority groups face a disproportionately higher risk of having the death penalty imposed against them compared to the rest of the country’s population. Lastly, I will explain how white Americans have promoted the stereotypes of minority racial groups, especially African Americans and Hispanics, as being inherent aggressive and violent

Annotated Bibliography

Lanier, C & Acker, J (2004), ‘Capital punishment, the moratorium movement, and empirical questions: Looking beyond innocence, race, and bad lawyering in death penalty cases’, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 577-617.

This article provides valuable information on how numerous court decisions in cases that can potentially lead to the death penalty tend to be influenced by race. The authors argue that a disproportionately high percentage of offenders who face death penalty charges pressed against them by federal courts belong to minority races. This article suggests that training of prosecutors and reform of charging guidelines can help to cure this problem. This is a useful suggestion considering that cases of racial discrimination have been seen to occur throughout the process of capital punishment, including pressing of charges, selection of jury, sentencing, and decisions on clemency.

Moreover, the article contains information on how authorities in certain states such as Georgia have for a long time refused to reform the process of administering capital punishment despite compelling evidence that it is characterized by racial discrimination, thereby favoring white offenders over their colored counterparts. In rejecting reform, courts have argued that such inequalities in sentencing patterns should be addressed by legislatures and not courts. Thus, the analysis presented in this article shows that race has historically constituted a major problem as far as the administration of the death penalty is concerned.

To deal with this problem once and for all, a number of suggestions have been made, for example greater scrutiny of each charging decision. Another viable suggestion is that the criteria for capital murder should be narrowed down to cover only the most heinous killings. In this latter suggestion, the line of argument is that the race factor may not easily exert any considerable influence in aggravated killings. This study will support the thesis by demonstrating that race is one of the factors white American use to discriminate against minority groups as far as the administration of the death penalty is concerned.

Unnever, J & Cullen, F. ‘White Perceptions of Whether African Americans and Hispanics are Prone to Violence and Support for the Death Penalty’, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, vol. 49, no. 4, pp. 519-544.

This study investigates the effects of racial stereotyping and how it manifests itself in the support for the death penalty by white Americans. The findings of the study showed that racial prejudice is a major factor that influences the decision by whites to support capital punishment. The study also makes a crucial contribution to research on the death penalty by recommending that future research ought to address the complexities surrounding white Americans view of race and how they use it to justify punitive punishments such as the death penalty. This paper is useful for the present study since it addresses the core issue of factors influencing the support for the death penalty by whites.

One of the most notable aspects of this article is that it provides a succinct depiction of racist attitudes of whites and how it infuses them with a strong desire mete out harsh punishment on criminals, the harshest of which is the death penalty. Moreover, the study reinforces the conventional view that such punitive punishments end up disproportionately affect minorities. It also builds on the idea that most white Americans perceive African Americans to be more aggressive or violent. Based on this argument, one may expect this pejorative portrayal of African Americans to predict consistent support for punitive punishments such as the death penalty. This study will contribute to the thesis by showing that white perceptions about the proneness to violence and aggression by racial minorities have contributed to the disproportionate increase in the number of Hispanic and African American victims of the death penalty.

Soss, J., Langbein, L & Metelko, A. (2003), ‘Why Do White Americans Support the Death Penalty?’ The Journal of Politics, vol. 65, no. 2, pp. 397–421.

This study attempts to address a wide range of factors that have contributed to the growing support for capital punishment by white Americans. One finding that seems surprising is that the manner in which whites respond to capital punishment tends to be heavily influenced by local context. Nevertheless, the study retains the main conventional view regarding race and death penalty: that racial prejudice is a strong predictor of the support for capital punishment among white Americans. Another important finding is that the polarization of white opinion along racial lines as far as the death penalty is concerned may be attributed to black residential proximity. For instance, an increase in the percentage of black residents in a county easily leads to an increase in the level of influence that racial prejudice exerts on the support for the death penalty by white Americans.

One thing to be noted about the study through is that the authors are reluctant to assert with finality that anti-black attitudes are the sole reason why whites in the United States support the death penalty. Nevertheless, they are quick to point out that crime is increasingly becoming a racialized issue across the country. Since part of this racialization involves hostility towards racial minorities, it goes without saying that minority racial groups such as African American suspects of crimes that may potentially lead to the death penalty such as aggravated killings are more likely to become victims of inefficiency in the administration of the death penalty compared to their white counterparts. On the other hand, white Americans seem to have persistently sought to justify their racial prejudices by pointing out that the rate of violence tends to be higher in poor black neighborhoods than in the rest of the country. Such claims may have been followed up on through exaggeration of black violence through media coverage. In many ways, this study brings to light the numerous unanswered questions relating to the white support for the death penalty and the tendency to associate people of color with higher criminality levels. This article will contribute to the thesis of the present study by highlighting various race-related arguments that white Americans use to justify their support for the death penalty.

Mustard, D (2001), ‘Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Disparities in Sentencing: Evidence from the U.S. Federal Courts’, Journal of Law and Economics, vol. 44, no. 1, 1-18.

In this study, Mustard (2001) set out to analyze racial, gender, and ethnic disparities in the administration of sentences in the U.S. federal courts. This analysis is useful because it sheds light on trends such as longer sentences for blacks particularly those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds and with lower education levels. It also outlines disparities between white and Hispanic vulnerability to inefficiencies in sentencing. The study’s findings indicate that the likelihood of blacks being incarcerated is higher than that of white Americans. This study contributed to the paper’s thesis by providing a framework based on which inferences about the rationale for the disproportionately high number of death penalties against black Americans compared to those carried out against white Americans.

Kotch, S & Mosteller, R (2010), ‘The racial justice act and the long struggle with race and the death penalty in North Carolina’, North Carolina Law Review, vol. 88, pp. 2031-2132.

This article examines how the state of North Carolina has struggled with the death penalty and how race has been an integral part of this struggle. Due to the serious race problem as far as the death penalty, the state passed the Racial Justice Act, which prohibits the execution of any individual in a situation where the judgment was obtained in a racially prejudicial manner. This law is unique in the sense that it relies on statistical evidence to offer insights into the potential role of the race factor in influencing prosecutors’ and jurors’ death penalty decisions. Moreover, it outlines how North Carolina courts have endeavored to ensure that race is not used as a factor influencing death sentences. This study will contribute to the thesis by demonstrate that the use of race by white Americans is a historical problem that must be addressed in order for the existing disparities in vulnerability to the death penalty based on racial factors to be resolved.

Report

An analysis of literature on the death penalty and race gives the impression that racial minorities tend to be disproportionately targeted by this highly punitive punishment. In most cases, the least targeted racial group population is that of white Americans. Incidentally, this group has historically been at the forefront in ensuring that capital punishment is used as a tool for targeting people of other racial groups such as blacks and Hispanics. It seems that many white population in America still support the death penalty today because they have been using it as a tool of racial prejudice against racial minorities and are intent on continuing doing so.

Anti-black attitudes have been a major factor influencing the support for capital punishment by white Americans (Soss, Langbein & Metelko, 2003). Throughout the twentieth century, capital punishment became increasingly racialized. A conventional view emerged characterized by an association between crime and race. Many whites have used and continue to use the illustration of the disproportionately high level of violence in neighborhoods inhabited by poor blacks as proof of the crime-race relationship. They seem to be blind to the fact that a major factor that contributes to this violence is the high level of poverty in those neighborhoods.

Many white people dominate the media business and thus tend to use it to perpetuate the racial stereotyping of crime through biased reporting of criminal activities in poor black neighborhoods. Consequently, the portrayal of the typical black prisoner as an irrational being worthy of being subjected to the death penalty has more or less gained traction across the country over time. Therefore, it is not surprising that many white Americans associate criminal activities with individuals of color. They believe that racial minorities bear the greatest responsibility for the crime problem that has simply refused to go away. Based on this view, one would expect white preferences for the death penalty to be bolstered by the idea that after all, the highest rate of culpability falls on “others”, in this case the racial minorities. Moreover, going by the racial stereotyping of crime, it sounds correct to argue that the imposition of capital punishment is an excellent way of protecting the white population from the so called colored perpetuators of heinous crimes.

On the other hand, state and federal authorities have largely been unsuccessful in ensuring that racial minorities are not unfairly targeted by death penalty laws. One of the ways in which this failure is evident is in the racial disparity in the way federal courts at different levels engage in criminal charging and how this influences sentencing consequences. It sounds bad for justice when charging decisions made in federal courts seem to favor whites over blacks in terms of sentence length. Although these decisions are heavily influenced by criminal history and arrest offense, the racial disparities still constitute a dominant factor. For instance, black offenders on average tend to receive about 10 percent longer sentences compared to whites charged with committing the same crimes (Mustard, 2001). Based on this observation, one may exist similar racial disparities of more or less the same magnitude to manifest themselves as far as the administration of capital punishment is concerned. Similarly, going by the history of racial stereotyping in the United States, it may be true to argue that these differences arise from disparities within the country’s criminal justice system as opposed to variations in crime patterns.

One reason why authorities have not been successful so far in their efforts to fight racism in the criminal justice system in general and the administration of capital punishment in particular is that white Americans have for a long time been relying on stiffer punishments as a tool for controlling or subordinating black people. In some cases, they have been using the death penalty simply as a platform through which they can express anti-black sentiments. This may be self-evident considering that some of the white Americans who happen to hold negative views about blacks also happen to endorse capital punishment. It is also justifiable based on the premise of anti-black stereotypes that promote greater belief in guilt, an expectation of recidivism, and a higher likelihood to favor a harsh punishment whenever white Americans are presented with an image of a black suspect (Soss, Langbein & Metelko, 2003).

White support for death penalty is an integral part of a wide-reaching strategy of promoting racial discrimination. The idea is to introduce a punitive law and then use it to target certain racial groups. Thus, it is not surprising that studies indicate that the possibility of white jurors handing down a death penalty significantly increases when defendants are of African American background (Soss, Langbein & Metelko, 2003). By making such racially biased decisions, these jurors justify the claim that death sentences in the United States are being imposed in a manner that is consistent with traditional racial stereotypes.

Differences in social groups tend to go hand in hand with variations in the living conditions of different racial groups (Kotch & Mosteller, 2010). For example, African Americans have traditionally been living in poorer neighborhoods due to segregation. In contrast, a larger proportion of white Americans live in more upmarket neighborhoods. In most cases, these differences tend to be a major determinant of individual convictions in relation to matters such as the death penalty. For example, people living in wealthy neighborhoods are likely to support the death penalty because of the notion that it will give them a measure of protection against criminals originating from poorer neighborhoods. However, to view the variations in views about the death penalty may easily lead to the overestimation of the role of the race factor. This is because one may argue that even in racially homogenous communities, those who live within the higher end of the socio-economic stratum are more likely to support the death penalty compared to their counterparts who live within the realm of lower socio-economic status.

Ideological factors have also contributed greatly to the growing support for the death penalty among the white American population. Traditionally, these whites have been expressing this view within the confines of the Republican Party as well as the conservative section of the American society. Conservative Americans have in most cases tended to support more punitive forms of punishment for crime. Again, such a partisan and ideological view may easily lead to justification of the death penalty despite the fact that it has tended to target minority racial groups more than white Americans. In this regard, it seems that whenever federal and state authorities fail to make gains in their struggle for equality in the administration of capital punishment, they covertly dismiss it as an unfortunate phenomenon whereby black American perpetrators simply happen to be victims of their own circumstances. Such arguments more or less have led to the pursuit of political correctness, whereby political interests are promoted at the expense of the pursuit of justice for racially disadvantaged groups.

Many white Americans who support the death penalty tend to promote stereotypes of minority groups, especially African Americans and Hispanics, as more aggressive and violent than the rest of the American population (Unnever & Cullen, 2012). On this basis, they tend to work towards influencing the implementation of capital punishment in such a way as to target these populations. It is unfair for people to describe their fellow countrymen in such a way without any empirical evidence. It not only acts as a manifestation of racism but also injustice. It is inhuman for supremacist groups within society, most of whom belong to the white population, to create laws that are enforced selectively by targeting certain populations based primarily on race.

Although it is normal for predictions of changes of racial perceptions to change over time, the negative stereotypes that whites use against blacks remain unchanged (Kotch & Mosteller, 2010). Against this backdrop, one may have to be overly optimistic to harbor the hope that the current situation as far as the administration of capital punishment will improve overnight. It is highly likely that more members of minority groups will continue to be targeted by the criminal justice system for execution under death penalty laws. There is nothing much that members of these minority groups can do especially considering that their circumstances of socio-economic marginalization makes it more difficult for them to pursue justice.

Hispanics have also been victims of negative stereotyping in regards to hostility and violence, albeit to a lesser extent than African Americans. Although literature on this debate has not been fully developed, one may expect that just like other minority groups, Hispanics have a story to tell as far as racial discrimination within the criminal justice system continues to thrive. One of the ways in which it exists is through selective application of the death penalty. This is particularly the case in situations where whites are able to identify the various ethnicities that exist among Hispanics. On the most part, however, focus has been on how the Hispanic population in general has been treated as far as the application of the death penalty is concerned. For example, white elites generally consider Hispanic men as overly violent and this greatly influences their tendency to influence the criminal justice system in such a way as to target them unfairly (Unnever & Cullen, 2012).

One way in which the rationale for racially motivated bias in the application of the death penalty law in America today can be explained is through the use of theoretical models. One of these models posits that individuals who often support the death penalty and other punitive policies of crime control also tend to conflate crime with minority groups (Lanier & Acker, 2004). In other words, those people view minorities as “criminal-other” (Lanier & Acker, 2004). This seems to be the kind of hypothesis that dominant white populations have been promoting in their support for the death penalty. It seems that they assume that crime should ideally be typified with minorities, and this justifies their position that punitive crime policies such as the death penalty should be implemented in such a way that they disproportionately affect specific minorities negatively.

A major problem with such a model is that it may fail to provide a clear link between the whites’ tendency to typify minority racial groups with crime and their support for the death penalty. Fortunately, researchers can provide clarity on this issue by through empirical research. The current state of the debate seems to be mired in contradictory views, though the dominant view is that typifying minority racial groups with crime is essentially an indication of willingness to establish punitive laws for use in disproportionately targeting those groups. Thus, one easily gets the impression that white Americans want minority groups to continue being targeted by the death penalty because they feel safer that way. Whether or not such targeting leads to a reduction in crime rates for the white population is an entirely different question. What remains clear is that targeting certain members of society through the death penalty merely on the basis of racial stereotyping amounts to racial discrimination.

Conclusion

The debate that has been presented in this paper demonstrates that the application of the death penalty within the American criminal justice system remains a highly controversial subject. Claims of disproportionate application of capital punishment on minority races may be said to constitute the most explosive aspect of the debate. This paper set out focus on the thesis that the white Americans support the death penalty in order to use it as a tool of racial prejudice against racial minorities.

Indeed, this discussion confirms this thesis because as the dominant community in America, whites perceive minority groups to be the main source of crime. To reduce this fear, they feel the need to not only support the death penalty but also to influence its application within the country’s criminal justice system, thereby leading to a disproportionately higher number of death sentences handed down to perpetrators from minority groups such as African Americans and Hispanics.

 

References

Kotch, S & Mosteller, R (2010), ‘The racial justice act and the long struggle with race and the death penalty in North Carolina’, North Carolina Law Review, vol. 88, pp. 2031-2132.

Lanier, C & Acker, J (2004), ‘Capital punishment, the moratorium movement, and empirical questions: Looking beyond innocence, race, and bad lawyering in death penalty cases’, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 577-617.

Mustard, D (2001). ‘Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Disparities in Sentencing: Evidence from the U.S. Federal Courts’, Journal of Law and Economics, vol. 44, no. 1, 1-18.

Soss, J., Langbein, L & Metelko, A. (2003), ‘Why Do White Americans Support the Death Penalty?’ The Journal of Politics, vol. 65, no. 2, pp. 397–421.

Unnever, J & Cullen, F. (2012). ‘White Perceptions of Whether African Americans and Hispanics are Prone to Violence and Support for the Death Penalty’, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, vol. 49, no. 4, pp. 519-544.

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