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The American Way of Death | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

The American Way of Death

The continued use of the death penalty in the United States remains an act of racial injustice as well as an inherently cruel, unusual and degrading punishment.

A report recently issued by Amnesty International confirmed the racial bias in sentencing that has been increasingly evident as capital punishment has been stepped up in a number of states, particularly Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

As AI reported, eighty percent of people executed since judicial killing resumed in 1977 were put to death for murders involving white victims, although blacks and whites are murder victims in almost equal numbers in the US. And, though African-Americans account for only 12 percent of the US population, they represent more than 40 percent of those on death row.

Even more stark: Since 1977, 200 African-Americans have been executed for the death of white victims, which is 15 times as many the number of whites put to death for killing blacks during that period even though African-Americans make up about 50 percent percent of all homicide victims.

When you consider this demonstrable racial bias along with numerous credible studies showing that capital punishment does NOT act as a deterrent to crime, it's clear that Rick Perry and the rest of the nation's governors would do well to heed the brave example of the Dallas Morning News, no liberal paper, which recently editorialized in support of a state moratorium on further executions to provide experts time to examine what the paper deems Texas's "broken system." (This comes after a year, 2002, when Texas was the only jurisdiction in the entire world to execute a juvenile offender, according to Amnesty.)

Robert Sherrill's award-winning Nation essay from 2001 makes it crystal clear why the death penalty is such a bad deal all around. Not only is it ineffective in deterring crime, more expensive than life imprisonment, and very fallible under the best of circumstances, but it's also considered barbaric in most of the rest of the world, not helping the US image abroad, and causing continued strife, even with allies, in various extradition matters.

To highlight and combat the growing use of capital punishment in America, we put together an online calendar compilation each month of prisoners slated for execution nationwide, along with an easy way to email letters requesting stays on behalf of these inmates. Time is running out for David Brewer, who is scheduled for execution in Ohio this Tuesday, unless Republican Governor Bob Taft grants a stay.

We've also compiled a list of the top ten reasons to oppose the death penalty. Write to your local paper using these talking points as ammo. Call your local talk radio show too. National polls show the tide is starting to turn with support for the death penalty dropping, even if slightly, from coast to coast. So now's the time to speak up.

And turn to both the Death Penalty Information Center and The Nation Online Directory death penalty page for a wealth of links to studies, reports, essays, articles and ways you can get involved in the fight to abolish the death penalty in the US.

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