by Bill Sacks
While pointing the finger at terrorists as wanton murderers (which they are), the US is among the one-sixth of the world’s nations that still use the death penalty, almost exclusively against the working class; five out of six nations have abolished it. Besides those whom the courts officially execute, US police unofficially (extra-judicially) execute even more – far more than in any other country. Police act on the street as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner, all within seconds.
In contrast, following judicial sentencing, official executions occur decades later, with most spending their entire lives on death row without execution. This varies wildly across the US. Twenty states have abolished the death penalty, and, of the other thirty, many execute maybe 1%, while others execute as many as 70%. This alone indicates the unfairness of the death penalty that, along with public sentiment opposed to capital punishment in the early 1970s, prompted the US Supreme Court to abolish the death penalty in 1972, only to bring death back to “life” in 1976.
Capitalism, particularly in the US, aims the death penalty almost exclusively at the working class, and at men. White collar crime often has far greater consequences – for example, the tobacco company executives who lied for years about the deadly effects of smoking, the politicians who sent working-class soldiers to kill and be killed in Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq, and even the bankers’ responsible for the 2008 crash that wiped out pensions and better- paying jobs. But rarely does white collar crime result in an indictment, let alone end in conviction – and never in execution.
The unequal application of the death penalty, confined only to the working class, also occurs largely along racial lines. This is traceable to the US history of slavery, Jim Crow racism (slavery by another name), and rampant lynch mobs in the 1900s. Such extrajudicial lynchings were only terminated by the government’s saying in effect to the racist mobs, “You can end your vigilante practice, since we (the state – federal and state governments) are going to take over the practice officially.” Cops, however, are the lynch mobs by another name, still permitted to kill with impunity.
From 1882 to 1964, the more than 4,700 lynchings killed far more black than white (mainly) men – roughly 3 to 1 – with many whites lynched for associating with black friends (http://law2.umkc.edu/Faculty/projects/ftrials/shipp/lynchingyear.html). Judicial executions, on the other hand, victimize far more white workers than black – 56% have been white, and 35% have been black since 1976. But in proportion to their respective portions of the population, a white worker is only one-eighth as likely to be executed as a black worker, though there are roughly equal numbers of black and white men on death row awaiting executions that may never take place. Workers of Latin, Native American, and other ethnic groups suffer fewer executions.
Until execution for rape was outlawed in 1977, almost 9 out of 10 of the 455 men executed for rape between 1930 and 1967 were black, almost all for raping white women, with undetermined numbers innocent of the crime. When black women were the rape victims, regardless of the color of the rapist’s skin, rarely was the death penalty applied.
Because more white workers are executed by official judicial proceedings than black (even though smaller in proportion to the white population), this threat against white working class men represents a spillover from the racism that infuses both the judicial system in general and the death penalty in particular. With this example alone, among many others, racism can be seen to be the enemy of all workers – white, black, Latin, Native American, and immigrants from many countries – and why white workers (men and women) have a life-and-death interest in fighting to extinguish racist ideology and practice alongside their working-class black, Latin, Native American, and immigrant sisters and brothers.
Much of this information is taken from a HARVARD MAGAZINE review, by law professor Lincoln Caplan, of a new book – Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment – written by a sister/brother team of law professors, Carol and Jordan Steiker, who are widely recognized as the world’s foremost authorities on the death penalty, having studied it for years and having written numerous articles and books.