The old saying, two wrongs don’t make a right, serves a great purpose when teaching children moral guidelines, fading as we grow into adults. This is strikingly evident in the American obsession with the death penalty. While the internet brought us sources for learning more about our “arbitrary and capricious” judicial system, 61% of American adults polled believe the death penalty is moral (Jones, 5/15/14). There isn’t a religious doctrine in the world that states an eye for an eye is a moral guideline. Just laws based on the feelings of vengeance. But are they really based on vengeance and crime deterrence? No. The death penalty is a means of social control. Social control can be defined as: “the enforcement of conformity by society upon its members, either by law or by social pressure” including “the influence of any element in social life working to maintain the pattern of such life” (Dictionary.com). A hefty part of the American social pattern is racism and classism. Our judicial system extends itself to keep minorities and the “lower” class separated from full integration in the social and political opportunities of America.
The majority of people executed in the US may be Caucasian but not by percentage of population. African-American males are the highest percentage of our population executed by death penalty. According to the NAACP Death Row USA 2013 Report 43% of the death row population is Caucasian, 41% African-American, 13% Latino and 1% Native American. How can 41% of death row inmates be African-American when they are only 13% of the US population as a whole? (US Census Bureau State and Quick Facts). The death row number is three times that of their population as a whole. The American judicial system has allowed for record numbers of African-American males to be uprooted from the social pattern to create a new pattern: death row inmates. The statistics enhance and affirm the statement that death row is a social control. The inmates become separated from society as racism had created separation methods from the post-Civil War to the Jim Crow era.
Class is a normal victim of social control evident from the blocked off ghettos of immigrants in the early 20 Century to the “project” housing boom throughout the 20 Century. The “lower” classes have predominantly been separated from the middle and upper classes of society by war drafts, housing exclusions, education exclusions and social mobility exclusions. There are far too many instances to recall here for greater details. The “lower” classes have lower education completion creating career less people with below poverty standard wages. The mean education of death row inmates and those executed is ninth grade (Cunningham and Vigen, 2002). What can a high school freshman possibly understand about the bureaucratic and dizzying maze of legalities within a criminal case against them? The “freshmen” receive the lowest support by the court system including lack of court monies for resources and witnesses (Bohm, 2007). They also receive the least educational support or follow-ups regarding their cases due to a lack of time by many state defenders that are low paid without many of their own resources (Bohm, 2007). The judicial system again creates a social control to separate the “lower” more government dependent classes.
The death penalty is a miscarriage of justice not a legal sentence. The above reasons are a very quick glance at points that trouble the 39% of Americans that do not support the death penalty. Extensive research has exposed the miscarriage of justice in the death penalty arena of law. Please continue to learn more on this topic to exonerate those wrongly convicted and executed. Social control of race and class obstructs all of our “pursuits” of happiness. This is evident as the middle class shrinks. Remember, an eye for an eye only makes the world blind.
Try the following links to connect to organizations that are teaching us and leading the cause:
NAACP (exonerate racism in our system): http://www.naacp.org/.
Death penalty information center: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/.
Be a part of the research teams that are finding the evidence to exonerate not just death penalty inmates but inmates on every level: http://www.innocenceproject.org/.
Resources from article:
Bohm, Robert M. Deathquest III: An Introduction to the Theory & Practice of Capital Punishment in the United States. Anderson Publishing Company, 2007.
Cunningham, Mark Ph.D.and Mark P. Vigen, Ph.D. “Death Row Inmate Characteristics, Adjustment, and Confinement: A Critical Review of the Literature”. Behavioral Sciences and the Law. (2002): 191–210.
Jones, Jeffrey. M. “View of Death Penalty as Morally OK Unchanged in U.S..” Gallup Politics. 15 May 2014.
US Census Bureau: State and Quick facts-http://quickfacts.census,gov/qfd/states/000.html.
This article was originally posted on my LinkedIn page July 8, 2014.