Friday, 11 May 2007

Racism, resistance and the death penalty

May 10, 2007

Racism, resistance and the death penalty

By Gloria Rubac, Workers World

Hours before he was executed on March 7, Joseph Nichols told his mother what
had happened to him as the prison prepared to move him from death-row
housing in Livingston, Texas, to the death house in Huntsville.

"They cut off all my clothes and stripped me naked. I finally got a pair of
boxers but my feet were shackled together, my hand were chained and then
another chain bound my feet, went up over my shoulders and bound my hands.
This is how our people were brought here from the motherland, naked and
chained, and this is how I will leave."

Nichols was executed despite front-page articles in the Houston Chronicle
and opinion pieces explaining his innocence. On the gurney, with the IV
loaded with poison, he blasted the prison personnel who had ordered him to
shave or be disciplined the evening before his execution.

More and more in Texas, prisoners are not going willingly to their
executions, but are fighting until the end. They are also actively
protesting the conditions of severe isolation and torture. The DRIVE
Movement, an activist organization on Texas death row, has held several
hunger strikes in the last year, as have several individuals.

Roy Pippin, who had steadfastly maintained his innocence, was executed on
March 29, after his month-long hunger strike exposing the horrific
conditions on Texas death row won significant media attention.

In his last statement while on the gurney, Pippin said: "I charge the people
of the jury, the trial judge, the prosecutor that cheated to get this
conviction. I charge each and every one of you with the murder of an
innocent man. All the way to the CCA, Federal Court, 5th Circuit and Supreme
Court. You will answer to your Maker when God has found out that you
executed an innocent man. May God have mercy on you. ... Go ahead, Warden,
murder me. Jesus, take me home."

Last summer, Michael Johnson, another Texas prisoner who had always
maintained his innocence, slashed his own throat rather than let the state
kill him. Before he bled to death, he wrote on the wall of his cell in his
own blood, "I did not kill that man."

In November 2006, after Willie Shannon was executed, he was laid in his
casket dressed as a Black Panther, a reflection of his politics. He was a
member of Panthers United for Revolutionary Education-PURE-

a Texas death row

Executions in the United States have dropped to the lowest levels in 10
years. The number of death sentences and the population of death row are
also decreasing. For the first time ever, the Gallup Poll has reported that
more people favor life in prison without parole over the death penalty.

During the 1990s there were about 300 death sentences given each year. Now
the number is around 125. Even in Texas, death sentences are down 65 percent
from 10 years ago.

Because of the issue of innocence, juries are less willing to condemn
someone to die. Over a dozen states have halted executions due to innocence
and also the rising evidence that the method of lethal injection kills
prisoners while they are still conscious. The New Jersey legislature had a
hearing scheduled for early May that could end lead to that state ending the
death penalty.

In recent years, a number of major newspapers have changed their position on
the death penalty and are now calling for its abolition. In the past month,
both the Chicago Tribune and the Dallas Morning News reversed their
longstanding support for capital punishment. And the Sentinel of
Pennsylvania simply called the death penalty "useless."

Amnesty International reported that executions worldwide fell by more than
25 percent last year, down from 2,148 in 2005 to 1,591 in 2006. Of all known
executions that took place in 2006, 91 percent were carried out in six
countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the United States.

Over half the world's countries have abolished the death penalty in law or
in practice.

In the United States, the death penalty is used mainly in the former
slave-holding states of the old Confederacy. Between 85 percent and 90
percent of all U.S. executions take place in the South. This is no accident.
Racism plays such a huge role in the death penalty because it is a direct
outgrowth of the legacy of slavery and lynchings.

During the last 125 years there have been thousands of illegal,
extra-judicial lynchings in the United States, primarily in the South,
primarily done by whites against Blacks. The majority took place in the late
1800s and the first half of the 1900s.

Today, in the 21st century, it is the era of legal lynchings.

They are still carried out mainly by whites and used mainly against people
of color. Ninety-eight percent of all district attorneys in the United
States are white, and only 1 percent is Black. It is these district
attorneys who decide whether a defendant will face the death penalty.

States that sentence the most people to death also are the states that had
the most illegal lynchings in the past, according to a study released in
2002 by sociologists at Ohio State University.

Historically unjust

The one factor that most determines whether a defendant will be sentenced to
death is the race of the person killed. Even though Black and white people
are murdered in nearly equal numbers, 80 percent of people executed since
the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 had cases involving white victims.

Only 14 white people have ever been executed for the murder of a Black
person, while 215 Black people have been executed for killing whites.

Conversely, white women represent only 0.8 percent of murder victims-yet 35
percent of those executed since 1976 were sentenced to die for killing a
white woman.

The over-all picture of capital punishment shows nationality involved at
every turn. If a white person is murdered, whether the defendants are Black
or white, they are at least five times more likely to be given the death
penalty than if a Black person is murdered.

African Americans are the least likely to serve on capital juries but the
most likely to be condemned to die.

In Texas, racism in the criminal justice system was openly practiced until
recently. Defense attorneys in Dallas remember that until the mid-1980s
so-called Black-on-Black murders were known around the courthouse as
"misdemeanor murder." Attorney Fred Tinsley reported in 2000, "At one point,
with a Black-on-Black murder, you could get it dismissed if the defendant
would just pay funeral expenses."

The U.S. Supreme Court twice found the method of jury selection in Dallas
unconstitutional. In response, Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade developed
a system of training prosecutors to excuse people of color, women, Jews and
those physically disabled.

Wade reprimanded a prosecutor in the late 1950s for allowing a Black woman
on a jury, telling him, "If you ever put another n---r on a jury, you're

An African American, Thomas Miller-El, was sentenced to death in Dallas in
1986. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that he be retried because all
African Americans except for one were excluded from his jury. He is now at
the Dallas County Jail awaiting a new trial.

In Philadelphia, where political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to
death, the odds of receiving a death sentence are 38 percent higher in cases
in which the defendant is Black. In fact, in Pennsylvania, over 70 percent
of those on death row are African American; this is the highest proportion
in the country.

The United States is a little over 225 years old. It was built on land
stolen from the Indigenous peoples and Mexico, and on the backs of African
slave labor. It became highly industrialized during the last hundred years
and today is the leading imperialist power because it exploits its large
working class, a growing proportion of whom are African American, Latin@,
Arab, Asian and Native American.

National oppression and racism is so tightly woven into the fabric of life
in this country that it colors all aspects of life from birth to death,
including death at the hands of the state.

"The movement to abolish the death penalty is growing and learning that if
executions are to end, we must be a movement of all peoples, particularly
those of us who make up the majority on death row. No change has ever come
willingly. We must fight for it. But with unity and struggle we will see the
end of this crime called capital punishment," said Njeri Shakur, a leader of
the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement for over a decade.


Source : Workers World (The writer is a long-time organizer with the TDPAM)


dudleysharp said...

RACE: A Death Penalty Primer - No Bias in Death Penalty Sentencing
Dudley Sharp,  Justice Matters
contact info below

7 studies are reviewed, herein

For emphasis, population count is totally irrelevant, regarding any consideration of class or race/ethnicity bias in the application of the death penalty. The only relevant factors in such a review are class, race/ethnic distribution of murderers and their victims in capital murders, as well as criminal history, the specific circumstances of the crime(s) and a review of  individual prosecutorial jurisdictions.

Study 1: Drs. Stephen Klein and John Rolph

"After accounting for some of the many factors that may influence penalty decisions, neither race of the defendant nor race of the victim appreciably improved prediction of who was sentenced to death . . . ".

"Relationship of Offender and Victim Race to Death Penalty Sentences in California"(Jurimetrics Journal, 32, Fall 1991, aka The Rand Corporation Study)

Study 2:  Smith College Professors Stanley Rothman and Stephen Powers found that legal variables, such as prior criminal history and the aggravated nature of the murder, are the proven basis for imposition of the death penalty. The black/white variation in sentencing has generally been reduced to zero when such legal variables are introduced as controls.

"Execution by Quota?", The Public Interest, Summer 1994

Study 3: NO BIAS IN DEATH SENTENCING:   U of Maryland's Death Penalty Study (1)

The following are direct quotes from the Executive Summary of the U of Maryland study.

Race of the victim

"The race of the victim effect does not hold up, however, at the decision of the state's attorney to advance a case to penalty trial and at the decision of the judge or jury to impose a death sentence given that a penalty trial has occurred." p 27

In other words, the victim's race has no impact on seeking or
giving death sentences.

"The race of the victim does not appear to matter when the decision is to advance a case to the penalty phase or to sentence a defendant to death after a penalty phase
hearing." page 29

In other words, the victim's race has no impact on seeking or
giving death sentences

"Among the subset of cases where the case actually does reach a penalty trial, the victim's race does not have a significant impact on the imposition of a death sentence." page 35

In fact, the study fails to demonstrate that there is any race of the victim effect in death sentencing in Maryland.

"When the prosecuting jurisdiction is added to the model the effect for the victims race diminishes substantially, and is no longer statistically significant." page 32

In other words, when you look at the capital murder cases, from each, separate jurisdiction, individually, any alleged race of the victim effect cannot be found.

" . . . any attempt to deal with any racial disparity in the imposition of the death penalty in Maryland cannot ignore the substantial variability that exists in different state's attorney's offices in the processing of death cases." p 34

In other words, it is important to look at how each jurisdiction handles their capital cases, because each jurisdiction is different. And when that is done, no bias in death sentencing is found.

Race of victim and defendant

"There is no race of the offender / victim effect at either the decision to advance a case to penalty hearing or the decision to sentence a defendant to death
given a penalty hearing." page 30

In other words, neither the race of the defendant nor the race of the victim have an impact on seeking or giving death sentences.

Race of the defendant

" . . . there is no evidence that the race of the defendant matters at any stage once case characteristics are controlled for." page 26

" . . . we found no evidence that the race of the defendant matters in processing of capital cases in the state." p 26

In other words, Maryland is not looking at race, but is concentrating on the nature of the murders.

(1) Executive Summary:
An Empirical Analysis of Maryland's Death Sentencing System with Respect to the Influence of Race and Legal Jurisdiction, www(DOT)

Study 4: No Racial Bias in the New Jersey Death Penalty System

New Jersey
For release: February 11, 2003
For further information contact
Winnie Comfort, AOC
(609) 292-9580
Report on Proportionality Released

Trenton, N.J.

The 2002 report essentially mirrors the findings contained in the 2001 report, and may be summarized as follows:

--There is no sustained, statistically significant evidence that the race of the defendant affects which cases advance to penalty trial. Although bivariate analysis reveals that a greater proportion of death-eligible white defendants than African-American defendants advance to the penalty phase, that finding is not supported by regression studies and application of case-sorting techniques. There is no sustained, statistically significant evidence that the race of the defendant affects which cases result in imposition of the death penalty. Again, although bivariate analysis reveals that a greater proportion of death-eligible white defendants are sentenced to death than African-American defendants, that finding is not supported by regression studies and application of case-sorting techniques.
--There is statistically significant evidence that white victim cases are more likely than African-American victim cases to advance to penalty trial, but that finding is eradicated when county variability is taken into account. A disproportionate number of minority victim cases are tried in counties with the lowest overall rates of progression to penalty trial, while less urban counties with a high concentration of white victim cases have higher rates of capital prosecutions. Although Judge Baime notes that county variability may itself be a problem, he offers no opinion on the subject because that issue is well beyond the contours of his report.
--There is no sustained, statistically significant evidence that white victim cases are more likely than minority victim cases to result in imposition of the death penalty

The New Jersey Supreme Court has accepted the 2002 annual report prepared by Judge David S. Baime, a retired Appellate Division judge, on the monitoring of proportionality review in capital punishment cases in New Jersey. The Supreme Court adopted a monitoring system in 2000 to determine whether racial discrimination played a role in the administration of New Jersey's capital cases.

In his capacity as a "special master," a role that requires extrajudicial expertise and work with court-appointed experts, Judge Baime prepared the "Report to the New Jersey Supreme Court: Systemic Proportionality Review Project 2001-2002 Term." .

Judge Baime was assisted by statistical analysts David Weisburd, a professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The University of Maryland, College Park, and Joseph Naus, a professor at Rutgers University. In an effort to provide the most accurate analysis possible, the monitoring system approved by the Court consists of three different statistical strategies: bivariate analyses, regression studies and case-sorting techniques. In order to establish systemic disproportionality, a defendant must relentlessly document the risk of racial disparity. This requires that the outcomes produced by the three modes of analysis substantially converge, or lead to the conclusion that racial discrimination plays a part in capital sentencing.

The three modes of analysis were applied to three separate decision points: death outcomes at penalty trials, death outcomes among all death-eligible cases, as determined by Judge Baime and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), and advancement of death-eligible cases to penalty trials. Three identifiable groups--African-Americans, whites and Hispanics--were examined, and possible disparities in terms of the race or ethnicity of the defendant and the race or ethnicity of the victim were considered.

Study 5:   Pro & Con: The Death Penalty in Black and White
by Dudley Sharp
Thursday, June 24, 1999,  6/24/99.
stored at

I don't know about you, but when I get into a discussion about the death penalty, my first thoughts go to the victim and to the brutality of the murder. That is the foundation of the just nature of the death penalty.

Too often these days, however the death penalty is discussed in different terms. Inevitably, with the racial history of this country, the effect of race in the application of the death penalty has become a central part of the death-penalty discourse. This is particularly true as some politicians are making the case for a death-penalty moratorium, in part to consider whether the death penalty is inherently racist.

All too often, however, those arguments are spurious. In the death penalty debate, it should be the facts, and not the hype, that are in be black and white.

A closer look at the statistics

Often such discussion begins with the obvious: the race of the defendant. The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reports that black murderers represent 35% of those executed, white murderers 56%. As the argument goes, this must be evidence of systemic racism, as blacks represent 12% of the population, whites 74%.

Fortunately, the United States does not execute people based on their population counts but on the murders they commit. As blacks represent 47% of murderers and whites 37%, we see that whites are twice as likely to be executed for committing murder as are their black counterparts.

Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that whites sentenced to death are executed 17 months more quickly than blacks. With 98% of all head prosecutors in the United States being white, according to DPIC, how is such a result possible? Maybe prosecutors, judges and juries are focusing on the crimes and not the race of the defendant.

That is not the case, say anti-death penalty groups, such as Amnesty International, and now the United Nations. If you adjust for the specific aggravating factors present within capital crimes, you find clear evidence of racism.

Death-penalty opponents note, for example, that the Supreme Court, in the famous race-based challenge to the death penalty (McCleskey v. Kemp), found in 1987 that those who murderer whites were 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murder blacks, under similar circumstances.

David Baldus, who did the statistical study on McCleskey's behalf, also completed a recent study in Philadelphia where it is was reported to show that black murderers were four times more likely to receive a death sentence than white murderers. With such results, how can anyone dispute the racist application of the death penalty?

Quite easily.

The Supreme Court, as well as many others, confused odds with multiples. The data reflect odds of 4-to-1, not four times more likely.

What difference does it make?

In Baldus' Philadelphia study, we find that if only 2% more white murderers had been sentenced to death and only 2.5% fewer black murderers had been sentenced to death, then each group would have been sentenced to death by juries at the same rate -- a far cry from the 400% differential stated within the incorrect interpretation of "four times"!

A punishment that fits the crimes

The next issue raised is the victim's race. While blacks and whites comprise about an equal number of murder victims, the ratio of white-to-black victims in death-penalty cases is about 7-to-1. This has given rise to the allegation that the "system" only cares about white murder victims. A horrible accusation, if true.

However, the ratio of white-to-black victims in the aggravated circumstances necessary for a capital murder conviction (rape, robbery, car-jacking, burglary, police murders, serial/multiple murders, etc.) is from 4-to-1 to 8-to-1 -- numbers consistent with the victim ratios on death row.

The final resting place for the racism charge lies within those cases where blacks have been executed for murdering whites and whites have been executed for murdering blacks. There have been 144 blacks and 10 whites executed under such circumstances, or a ratio of 14-to-1. As blacks are about 2.5 times more likely to murder whites than the other way around, there appears to be a huge disparity in such executions. Is racism the reason?

If we look at robbery, the aggravated crime found most often in capital cases, we find that when there is a robbery with injury, the ratio of black robber/white victims versus white robbers/black victims is 21-to-1.

Again, when looking at the circumstances consistent with capital crimes, we find no evidence of racial bias.

The determining factor for sentencing in death-penalty cases is what it should be -- the aggravating nature of the crimes. Both the Rand Corp. study of 1991 and the research presented by Smith College professors Stanley Rothman and Stephen Powers in 1994 confirm that finding. In other words, it appears that any racial variations present within the data are reflective of the crimes themselves and not racial bias within the system. A review of those studies, as well as of criminal-justice statistics, within the context of the aggravating circumstances present within capital murders and the related statutes, produces the same conclusion.

Don't assume the worst motives

There will always be some variables of race, ethnicity and class within any study of criminal-justice practices, and based on historic, as well as current prejudices, we can never lower our guard. Because all studies are subject to poor protocols, bias and misinterpretation, we must make reasoned judgments based on as many respected considerations as we may have at our disposal.

And even if criminal-justice statistics did not show the obvious correlation between crimes and the application of the death penalty, we should note what the Supreme Court stated in McCleskey: "Where the discretion that is fundamental to our criminal justice process is involved, we decline to assume that what is unexplained [by measured factors] is invidious." Sound ideas should not be eliminated based on misguided statistics.

In the case of the death penalty, the facts lead to only one conclusion. No moratorium is necessary.

Study 6: Death Penalty Opponents Distortions are the Real Story

"To properly protect the people in Baltimore City and other jurisdictions like it, we must restore public confidence in and support of capital punishment, so that prosecutors can seek it in appropriate cases, and jurors will impose it. The first step toward that end is to debunk the myth that capital punishment is imposed discriminatorily. The numbers are there, in the opponents's own studies, once we cut through the spin and look at the facts."

Smoke and Mirrors on Race and the Death Penalty, Kent Scheidegger, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, Engage Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 2, 10/2003     www(DOT)

Study 7:          Full Review Finds no Bias

"From 1976-1995, 5 white murderers have been put to death for the murder of black persons and 101 black murderers have been put to death for the murder of white persons (NAACP LDF, 1996). Opponents falsely contend that this is evidence of racism in the "system". That 101:5 ratio, or 20:1, is consistent with  statistics that show aggravated crimes (those crimes committed with the murder which may make a crime eligible for the death penalty) are committed by blacks against whites in far greater numbers than by whites against blacks. For all violent crimes, there are ten times as many black offenders (2,016,939) involved in white victim violent crimes as there are white offenders (210,869) involved in black victim violent crimes, or a 10:1 ratio. (The State of Violent Crime in America, pg. 12,1/96, data derived from Criminal Victimization in the U.S., 1993, BJS forthcoming, tables 42 and 48. Multiple offenders were assumed to be two offenders for calculation purposes.) In addition, blacks are nearly three times as likely to murder whites (849), as whites are to murder blacks (304), or 3:1 (Sourcebook 1994, BJS 1995, table 3.123). IF murder rates are statistically consistent within the violent crime category, as McCleskey et al indicate, then blacks are, statistically, by a 30:1 (10:1 X 3:1) ratio, more likely to murder whites, than whites are to murder blacks, in those circumstances where an additional aggravating factor is present (see C2). These are those crimes most eligible for the death penalty. That statistically projected ratio of 30:1 is hardly inconsistent with the 20:1 ratio for black offender(s)/white victim vs white offender(s)/black victim executions. The most relevant aggravated crime is robbery with injury, wherein blacks are 21 times more likely to be involved in such crimes as are whites. This 21:1 ratio represents 1.4 million black offender(s)/white victim vs. 68,000 white offender(s)/black victim for robbery with injury crimes (JFA, using BJS, 1977-84 data). IF overall murder statistics are consistent, within this crime category, as McCleskey et al suggests, then there is a 30-60:1 ratio of black on white vs white on black murders within this robbery/murder category. (From 1977-1984)."

Excerpt from "C. RACE, SENTENCING AND THE DEATH PENALTY", paragraph No. 5., DEATH PENALTY AND SENTENCING INFORMATION In the United States, 10/1/97, by Dudley Sharp,

copyright 1998-2007 Dudley Sharp

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
email, phone 713-622-5491
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Pro death penalty sites 


www(dot)  (Sweden)

Permission for distribution of this document is approved as long as it is distributed in its entirety, without changes, inclusive of this statement.

Lisa al_Bassam said...

Dear Mr. Sharp,

It has escaped the attention of no one that you seem to have developed a fondness for commenting on this site – and for this reason I regret all the more having to inform you that you & your opinions (be they as they may backed up by all sorts of statistics that serve to 1) lend you a slight veneer of credibility -- provided no one bothers to double-check and/or cross-reference -- as well as 2) make our eyes glaze over) are simply not welcome.

Conversely, it cannot possibly have escaped your attention that you’re commenting on an anti –death penalty site. I have to admit that I really cannot fathom what makes you think that your views & statistics would be called for here – I mean, just what kind of gargantuan measure of arrogance on your part fuels your cutting -& pasting and clicking of that ‘post’-button that really ought to give you pause to let your finger linger above your mouse for that last-minute reflection, which might be instructive indeed: It might inform you, for instance, that you’re an intruder and a troll, and perhaps even that there are indeed venues where your opinions might – indeed almost certainly will be – considered offensive in more ways than you can probably count.

Mr. Sharp, I’m going to state this as briefly & as clearly as I can: I don’t even need to reach what I shall charitably refer to as 'your arguments', inasmuch as I entertain no illusion whatsoever that I shall ever be able to consider you as anything other than symbolic of what people mean when they use the term ‘banality of evil.’ Instead, allow me to merely point out that this site, on which you like to comment, is maintained and visited by people who know, care about, and even love people on death row. For this reason, we are in a constant state of anxiety, interrupted occasionally by grief and despair; while I know you probably cannot comprehend this (and admit that frankly I don’t give a damn) – your casual discussion of your wish to kill those we care about is the cause of slight annoyance at best, and profound distress at worst.

So my suggestion to you, since I can assure you that you will sway no one here to your point of view, is to go do your cut-&-paste pro-death proselytizing elsewhere. At a bare minimum, do not inflict on us your automated signature references to morally bankrupt sites such as This is not to say that we don’t appreciate the fact that you’re working so very hard, mostly at trying to get people’s attention – it’s just that you seem to have forgotten the valuable lesson you probably learned around the age of five: Negative attention isn’t always better than no attention. I leave this reminder as what is hopefully my parting gift to you, and wish you a wonderful life.

Lisa al-Bassam

Ol_Grouch said...

This guy Dudly is what Eisenhower called a "DICKEY-BIRD"-- a new species that can shit through both his mouth and ass, and heis producing blivets by the dozen (another Eisenhower expletive)..

Tell me that an all white jury full of klukkers don't shout for Black blood; tell me how many whites guys were executed for killing blacks; hell in Mississippi, that got you a medal. Tell me Mr Sharp where you got your built in know it all over-patronizing arrogance? I hope that you are not a Jesuit...

Of course it is easy to quote only research that tends to support your argument, and ignore the hundreds of studies that are appositive.

I originally wrote a line by line refutation of your arguments, but lost my elegant refutation when my computer deleted rather than saved it. If I can find time, I will attempt to rewrite it. But the facts are simple and do not require spin doctoring: at least in North Carolina, with an about 13% Black population, about half of those on death row are Black, and I would guess that few are there because they killed other blacks. I do believe, with out reserch, that most involve felony murder. That is real, not not some high fallutin' flawed sociological study. It is said that statistics don't lie, but we all know that statisticians do. All these studies have preconcieved conclusions, so they are scarcely objective. They design their studies to prove their conclusions.

Father Sharp get off your Ivory tower! Imagine, criticizing the late Pope....