Racial Discrimination and the Death Penalty, America’s System of Injustice
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Ngozi Ndulue, Senior Director of Research and Special Projects and Rob Dunham, Executive Director of Death Penalty Information Center released Enduring Injustice: the Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty, and eye opening look at racial discrimination and the U.S. death penalty.
The report places the death penalty in historical context as a “Descendant of Slavery, Lynching, and Segregation”, and works to expose the death penalties persistence in America as it relates to racism, extra judicial executions at the hands of police, and the racial justice movements working toward criminal legal reform.
Missouri is but one of many places in which the death penalty is linked to historic racial terror lynchings in America. Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty in partnership with the Community Remembrance Project of Missouri and the Equal Justice Initiative work to recognize the known victims of racial terror lynching throughout Missouri through soil collection, memorialization, and education that acknowledges the horrors of racial injustice. Counties in Missouri with the highest amount of known historic lynchings often overlap with the highest rates of modern execution. In 2020, the most pending capital murder cases in Missouri exist in St. Louis County, where five Black men are currently facing the death penalty.
In 2015, Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty worked with Frank Baumbgartner to study racial disparities and racial bias in sentencing in Missouri. In “The Impact of Race, Gender, and Geography on Missouri Executions”, Baumbgartner found that in St. Louis County – the home of Ferguson, Missouri – more executions have been carried out than any other Missouri jurisdiction. A person convicted of homicide in St. Louis County is three times more likely to be executed than someone convicted of the same crime elsewhere in the state. Of the most significant of findings in the Baumgartner study was that of racial disparities particularly relating to the race of victims. Homicides involving white victims were 7 times more likely to result in executions than those involving black victims. Although 60% of murder victims in Missouri are black, 81% of people executed in Missouri had been convicted of killing white victims. Cases involving white female victims were 14 times more likely to result in execution than those involving black male victims. Although the Baumbgartner study was conducted in 2015, the racial disparities in the pursuit of the death penalty in Missouri persist to this day.
Ngozi Ndulue’s research points to these persistent racial disparities in the application of the death penalty in Missouri. Prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty if the victim is white than if the victim is Black.
There is not a question about racial bias and racial discrimination existing within the American criminal legal system, which was built to torture, segregate, and oppress Black, Brown, and Indigenous People of Color. The death penalty has long been an anchor for mass incarceration and excessive sentences. Long, severe prison sentences, including life without parole, can be framed as less harsh by comparison.
With growing movements to drastically change systems of oppression and our current criminal legal systems, speaking truthfully about our collective histories and the persistence of racism in the application of the death penalty must be done if we are to end America’s systems of injustice.
Join MADP, Ngozi Ndulue, Nimrod Chapel Jr of the MO-NAACP, and Glenn North of the Community Remembrance Project of MO online for
Enduring Injustice in Missouri, December 12 6-8PM CST. Register HERE.
In Enduring Injustice: the Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty, Ngozi Ndulue of Death Penalty Information Center places the death penalty in historical context as a descendant of slavery, lynching, and segregation while highlighting the current crisis of extra judicial executions, and social justice movements that call for police and criminal legal reform.
The report is an eye-opening look into the distinct legislation that paved the way for racial discriminatory practices that persist in the use of death sentencing today.
Ndulue will be in conversation with Missouri NAACP President, Rod Chapel, Equal Justice Initiative Liaison for the Community Remembrance Project of Missouri, Glenn North, and Michelle Smith to discuss the historical and current factors of race and the death penalty in Missouri.