Capital Punishment and African Americans
There is a widely-held opinion among many scholars and lawyers that the policies of American judicial institutions are characterized by the prejudiced attitude towards racial or ethnic minorities, in particular, African American population (Harries & Cheatwood, 2007; Jewell, 2003). For a very long these people had to struggle against racism, deep-rooted in many courtrooms and there is significant evidence indicating that even now the situation has not improved too much.
Yet, this is just a hypothesis which can be either proved or refuted. Undoubtedly, the United States has undergone a great number of changes in the course of its history, but some follies of the past have survived. Current trend shows that Black males are virtually left unprotected by the government, but we cannot state with certainty that this is the result of discrimination because there may be some other factors affecting the outcome of the trial, for instance, the circumstances of the specific case and the income level of the accused person.
According to the statistical data, African Americans are significantly overrepresented in the death row, approximately at ten per cent (Harries & Cheatwood, 1997, p 75). Furthermore, the findings indicate that there is a glaring discrepancy between different regions of the country, especially in Northern and Southern states (Harries & Cheatwood, 1997). Yet, it is very difficult to determine whether this information is sufficient because the instances of racism or any other bias are virtually improvable in terms of law.
There is a slightly different view on this problem; for example, Sue Jewell believes that more than eighty percent of capital sentences passed on African Americans can be explained by the incompetence of the defense attorneys, prosecutorial misconduct, like suppression of evidence, and inappropriate instructions, given to the jury (Jewell, 2003, p 196). All of these alleged or real errors eventually resulted in the execution.
Additionally, it is said that the most crucial factor is not the race of the suspect but the race of the victim, in other words, the most crucial question is against whom the crime has been committed (Jewell, 2003). The thing is that the felony committed against a white person is much more likely to lead to the death penalty. Undoubtedly, this statement cannot be easily substantiated because the decision-making of the jury, judge and the prosecutor is also profoundly affected by the details of the case. In order to demonstrate that the US judicial institutions are partial; one has to investigate each capital case, which is next to impossible.
In their turn, the opponents of this view state that this is just one of the most widespread myths in contemporary American society. Their argument is based on the belief that racial discrimination has just turned into a common appeal for many criminals. The thing is that very often the verdict can be neutral and impartial but every conviction of an African American inevitably gives rise to the heated debate about racial discrimination (Levinson, 2002, p 1331).
We cannot make any conclusive remarks about the policies of American institutions. Naturally, the percentage of African Americans, sentenced to death is much larger than that one of white or Hispanic population. First, it should be pointed out that many people cannot afford a good private lawyer, thus the government appoints public defenders who are not always able to fulfill their duties in the most effective manner (Jewel, 2003, p 196).
This appears to be the underlying cause of this problem rather than racial discrimination. There is a very small likelihood that this dispute can ever be resolved, because the arguments of the opposing sides are rather convincing. In this regard we should say that even the slightest hint of prejudice should be thoroughly investigated by the authorities because it is entirely impermissible in the court room, especially if it is a matter of life and death.
Overall, these findings indicate that the use of death penalty in the United States cannot be justified. We should speak not only about the humaneness of this method but about the risks of mistakes, made by the judicial system. It seems that the racial bias still remains one of the most dominant forces in decision-making process so it might be reasonable to declare a moratorium on the capital punishment as it may become a dangerous and flawed tool in the hands of those people who are inclined to stereotyping, discrimination or other mistakes.
At the moment African-American population strives to overcome the disparities existing in the community. The functioning of judicial system is another manifestation of these disparities. Although there is no conclusive evidence of racism in the US courts, we can say that Black people are placed at a disadvantage, because many of them do not have an opportunity for appropriate services, namely good defense attorneys. As for the problem of discrimination or prejudice, this claim cannot be fully substantiated from legal perspective. The statistical data gives only circumstantial proof. Of course, the numbers show that African American are more likely to be convicted to death and subsequently executed but it does not actually show that the judicial system is set against them.
Harries, K. D. Cheatwood, D. (2007). The geography of execution: the capital punishment quagmire in America. London: Rowman & Littlefield.
Jewell, K. S. (2003). Survival of the African American family: the institutional impact of U.S. social policy. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Levinson, D. (2002). Encyclopedia of crime and punishment. New York: SAGE.