The purpose of these FACT or FICTION Articles is to examine various issues and questions that arise as a result of the things we see, read about, or are otherwise told, and to essentially get to the bottom of the issue setting aside all of the biases we have. In this FACT or FICTION Article, we will examine the question of whether or not, blacks and other minorities are disproportionately sentenced to death for the crime of capital murder.
I am sure many of us recall reading at least one or two news stories this year where a person of color committed a murder, was tried and found guilty of that crime, and then sentenced to death as a consequence. Invariably then the argument gets brought forward that the judicial system, based on the race of the offender, disproportionately levies capital punishment against the offender. So, here in lies the question of this article -
FACT or FICTION - Minorities are disproportionately sentenced with Capital Punishment, singling out Blacks and Hispanics, and sparing Caucasian Offenders more-so than minorities.
The Answer - FICTION
According to the latest statistical data provided by deathpenaltyinfo.org, since 1976 looking at all of the capital punishments imposed the racial demographic breakdown is 449 persons of African-American ethnicity accounting for 35%, 100 executions of Latinos accounting for 7%, 736 executions of Caucasians accounting for 56%, and 24 executions of various ethnicities to include Asians and Native Americans which comprise a mere 2%.
Now, while one would reasonably assume given the demographic composition of the United States, with White Americans (non-Hispanic/Latino and Hispanic/Latino)comprising the racial majority, with 72% share of the U.S. population, per 2010 US Census, Hispanic and Latino Americans composing 15% of the population, making up the largest ethnic minority. Black Americans are the largest racial minority, composing nearly 13% of the population, it would only make sense, that more caucasians were executed and awaiting execution on death row. These numbers DO NOT tell the whole story.
According to the statistical data maintained by the US Department of Justice, for the years 1976 to 2005, 50.9% of the victims of murder were Caucasians, 46.9% of the victims were Black, and 2.1% of the victims were of other races. Again, given the population demographics, you would expect this to be the case, however, in examining the race of the offenders committing murder 45.8% of the offenders were Caucasian, 52.2% of the offenders were Black, and 2% of the offenders were of other race. Thus the offender rates of Blacks committing murder were 7 TIMES HIGHER than Whites.
In analyzing this crime data, we see Caucasian Offenders were responsible for less than 50% of murders, Blacks were responsible for greater than 50% of the murders committed. In further analysis, Capital Murder, that is those murders committed in which the death penalty could apply, 39.1% of those offenses were committed by Whites, 59.3% of those offenses were committed by Blacks, and a mere 1.6% of those offenses were committed by other racial/ethnic offenders. Given this data, where nearly 2/3s of Capital Punishment Applicable Offenses occurred one should then reasonably deduce the vast majority of those sitting on death row would be Black. This however is NOT the case, quite the opposite is true. Whereas, roughly 40% of capital punishment crime was committed by Whites, they comprised 56% of the total of executions during the time span from 1976-2005.
The statistical data maintained by the US Department of Justice therefore directly and unequivocally disproves the argument, but it does suggest the disproportionate sentencing of whites for the same murder offenses, if one were to embrace such a stance.