The Death Penalty

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate February 2002

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The Death Penalty: The Discrimination Within Throughout America's history, the death penalty has been applied disproportionately to the poor and blacks. The death penalty, legal execution, has existed as long as has human culture. Capital Punishment, the death penalty, is punishment by death. This is the practice of the gas chamber, electrocution, lethal injection, hanging, or firing squad in the United States. In most cultures, this sentence is reserved for the most severe crimes, murder, violent sexual assault, and treason. But in some times and places, in both simple and sophisticated societies, punishments for many crimes have been abnormally severe, even including death for stealing a loaf of bread or writing derogatory songs about notables.

In America's history black and poor defendants have always been sentenced to death and executed unfairly and disproportionately in terms of population. For example, of the 455 criminals executed for rape after 1930 in southern states, 405 were black (Monagle 15).

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 recognized this discrimination when it ruled in Furman v. Georgia that courts were applying the death penalty optionally, in violation of the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments by sentencing blacks to death. Justice William O. Douglass stated: The discretion of judges and juries in imposing the death penalty enables the penalty to be selectively applied, feeding prejudices against the accused if he is poor and despised and lacks political clout or if he is a member of a suspect or unpopular minority. (Latzer 235) This ruling, in essence, stopped all executions for several 2 years. States, fearing that the Supreme Court would overturn death sentences on the basis of discrimination, temporarily discontinued executions and scurried to revise and reintroduce their death penalty statutes. By 1975, thirty-three states had revised their statutes, enabling them once again to execute criminals...