I'm against the death penalty—100 percent.
There's a whole host of reasons why, but recent studies showing how the death penalty is selectively applied down racial and economic lines makes its continued existence in America more disturbing than ever.
Black men constitute 61 percent of homicide victims in Louisiana — nearly 13,000 black men were killed in this state since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Yet only three people have been executed for killing a black man in all of this time. That’s less than 6 percent of the rate of executions for individuals who kill someone other than a black man, and 1/48th of the execution rate for people who kill white women, according to a study that will appear in the Loyola University of New Orleans Journal of Public Interest Law.
This isn't to advocate that more people receive the death penalty. But what we are learning is that killing a white person—particularly a white woman without a criminal record—is far more likely to warrant the death penalty than killing an African American, or anyone without a college degree, or anyone with a criminal record.
In essence, our criminal justice system has found new ways to show us that some lives are more deeply valued than others. For instance:
Scott Phillips, a sociology and criminology professor at the University of Denver, published a study last month in the Law & Society Review focusing on the imposition of death sentences in relation to the victim's social status. Phillips studied capital cases in Harris County (Houston), Texas, between 1992 and 1999 and found that the social status of the victim in the underlying murder had a significant influence on whether the death penalty would be sought and imposed on the defendant. In examining 504 cases, Phillips found that defendants are six times more likely to receive a death sentence if they kill the highest status victims.
These are horrible, indisputable facts.
The death penalty is basically used to penalize people who are found guilty of murdering certain folk. Then there's Dale Cox, the Louisiana district attorney single-handedly responsible for sending more people to death row than any other DA in the state. Cox has openly admitted that for him, it's all about revenge.
"I'm a believer that the death penalty serves society's interest in revenge. I know it's a hard word to say and people run from it, but I don't run from it because I think there is a very strong societal interest as a people," Cox said. "I think (revenge) is the only reason for it."
This is a key clue into the mindset of those who pursue and apply the death penalty. It's hard to imagine a DA seeking the death penalty as revenge for someone they didn't truly value in the first place.