Every day in America, the trek continues, a Black march to death row. In Pennsylvania, where Afro-Americans constitute 9% of the population, well over 60% of its death row inhabitants are Black. Across the nation, although the numbers are less stark, the trend is unmistakable. In October 1991, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released its national update, which revealed 40% of America’s death row population is Black. This, out of a population that is a mere 12% of the national populace.
The five states with the largest death rows have larger percentages on death row than in their statewide Black populations. Statistics are often flexible in interpretation, and, like scripture, can be cited for any purpose. Does this mean that Afro-Americans are somehow innocents, subjected to a setup by state officials? Not especially. What it does suggest is that state actors at all stages of the criminal justice system, from citing at the police station; arraignment at the judicial office; pre trial, trial, and sentencing stage before court; treat Afro-American defendants with a special vengeance that white defendants are not exposed to. This is the dictionary definition of discrimination.
In the 1987 case, McCleskey v. Kemp, the famed Baldus study revealed facts that unequivocally proved one, defendants charged with killing white victims in Georgia are 4.3 times as likely to be sentenced to death as defendants charged with killing Blacks. Two, six of every eleven defendants convicted of killing a white person would not have received the death sentence if their victim had been Black. Three, cases involving Black defendants and white victims are more likely to result in a death sentence than cases featuring any other racial combination of defendant victim.
Although the US Supreme Court, by a razor thin five-four vote, rejected McCleskey’s claim, he could hardly reject the facts underlying them. Retired Justice Powell said, in essence, differences don’t amount to discrimination. The bedrock reason why McCleskey was denied relief was the fear, again expressed by Paul, that McCleskey’s claim, taken to its logical conclusion, throws into serious question the principles that underlie our entire criminal justice system. How true: McCleskey can’t be corrected, or else the whole system is incorrect. Now, that couldn’t be the case. Could it?
From death row, this is Mumia Abu Jamal. For more information about my case, racism, and the death penalty, and what you can do, contact equal justice USA at 301-699-0042.