Obama, the Federal Death Penalty, and Race

The death penalty is a difficult issue for just about any politician.  Most prefer to avoid it as much as possible.  But the time may soon come when President Obama will have to take a stand on this question.  In a recent article on Politico.com, Josh Gerstein outlines the challenges that President Obama may face in the near future regarding the federal death penalty, as several cases inch a little closer to crossing his desk. Obama has previously stated that he supports the death penalty in cases that involve “heinous” crimes, but has not made it clear exactly where he draws the lines between which crimes are heinous and which are not. Attorney General Eric Holder has likewise given few clues about his specific stance on this issue. He has stated that he personally opposes capital punishment, but he has also authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in four cases since he has taken office. 

Compared to some states, the federal death penalty has been used relatively sparingly, and executions at the federal level have been halted for several years due to challenges to the constitutionality of lethal injection. In April, 2008 the Court ruled that lethal injection is constitutional, clearing the way for some pending executions to go forward. There are several cases making their way through the federal appeals process now, including the cases of 6 African Americans from the Washington area all of whom are nearing the end of their appeals. 

That all six of the inmates involved in these cases are African-American is sadly symbolic of the racial disparities inherent in the federal death penalty.  Currently there are 57 prisoners on federal death row, 35 of which are people of color, and 28 of which are African-American. According to a recent survey of the Federal Death Penalty  System, during the years 1995-2000 U.S. Attorneys recommended that the death penalty be sought in 44.3% of cases involving a black defendant, but only 26.2% of cases involving a white defendant. Also, in a 2007 report titled The Persistant Problem of Racial Disparities in the Federal Death Penalty the ACLU found that the death penalty is reduced to life sentences during plea bargaining almost twice as often for white defendants as for black defendants.

These statistics not only reflect serious racial bias on their own, but they are also disproportionate to the rest of the nation: in 2003 the United States Government, and the U.S. military, had higher percentages of non-white prisoners on their death rows (77% and 86% respectively) than any single state except Colorado.   At the beginning of this year, those figures still stood at 60% and 78%, way out of proportion with the population as a whole.

AIUSA welcomes a lively and courteous discussion that follow our Community Guidelines. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.

28 thoughts on “Obama, the Federal Death Penalty, and Race

  1. What a great post you put in! But I'm afraid that the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the due process right to DNA testing after trial. Here's the link: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/supreme-court-rej

    So now what? Oh yes, and I'm afraid that Pennsylvania may have killed Roland William Steele for murder in spite of his likely stay. How sad, and how unjust. My condolences to his family and his victims' families. May he R.I.P. with the victims. :( At least Reginald Clemons' execution has been stayed in Missouri to allow a challenge to the lethal injection procedure. We can only hope that Reginald needs to prove to the court that he is innocent and that he was tortured into giving a false confession to the crime for which he was condemned. :(

  2. Excellent post. We need to abolish the death penalty for any crime as most civilized nations have already done. It is not a deterrent and it is not evenly applied and it is unrectifiable when wrong.

  3. What a great post you put in! But I'm afraid that the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the due process right to DNA testing after trial. Here's the link: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/supreme-court-rej

    So now what? Oh yes, and I'm afraid that Pennsylvania may have killed Roland William Steele for murder in spite of his likely stay. How sad, and how unjust. My condolences to his family and his victims' families. May he R.I.P. with the victims. :( At least Reginald Clemons' execution has been stayed in Missouri to allow a challenge to the lethal injection procedure. We can only hope that Reginald needs to prove to the court that he is innocent and that he was tortured into giving a false confession to the crime for which he was condemned. :(

  4. What a great post you put in! But I'm afraid that the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the due process right to DNA testing after trial. Here's the link: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/supreme-court-rej

    So now what? Oh yes, and I'm afraid that Pennsylvania may have killed Roland William Steele for murder in spite of his likely stay. How sad, and how unjust. My condolences to his family and his victims' families. May he R.I.P. with the victims. :( At least Reginald Clemons' execution has been stayed in Missouri to allow a challenge to the lethal injection procedure. We can only hope that Reginald needs to prove to the court that he is innocent and that he was tortured into giving a false confession to the crime for which he was condemned. :(

  5. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say
    that I've really enjoyed browsing your posts. Any way
    I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  6. Excellent post. We need to abolish the death penalty for any crime as most civilized nations have already done. It is not a deterrent and it is not evenly applied and it is unrectifiable when wrong.

  7. What a great post you put in! But I’m afraid that the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the due process right to DNA testing after trial. Here’s the link: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/supreme-court-rejects-due-process-right-dna-testing-after-trial

    So now what? Oh yes, and I’m afraid that Pennsylvania may have killed Roland William Steele for murder in spite of his likely stay. How sad, and how unjust. My condolences to his family and his victims’ families. May he R.I.P. with the victims. :( At least Reginald Clemons’ execution has been stayed in Missouri to allow a challenge to the lethal injection procedure. We can only hope that Reginald needs to prove to the court that he is innocent and that he was tortured into giving a false confession to the crime for which he was condemned. :(

  8. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say
    that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your posts. Any way
    I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  9. Hello I am a death row inmate in louisiana. I was convicted of a crime i had nothing to do with. Not only did i have nothing to do with it but there is nothing proving that I was even there. No DNA, no blood, no nothing. I have been here for 14 years. Since I was 18 years old. This is so unjust. My family has grown and my kids have had to live without me. My transcripts are missing, evidence is missing from my case and they expect me to go on apeal? By law I should not be able to because I do not have a full transcript. I can go on and on but if you view my website http://www.rogerslacaze.com you will see for yourself that not all death row inmates are suspose to be there. Thank you for your time

    R. LaCaze

  10. Hello I am a death row inmate in louisiana. I was convicted of a crime i had nothing to do with. Not only did i have nothing to do with it but there is nothing proving that I was even there. No DNA, no blood, no nothing. I have been here for 14 years. Since I was 18 years old. This is so unjust. My family has grown and my kids have had to live without me. My transcripts are missing, evidence is missing from my case and they expect me to go on apeal? By law I should not be able to because I do not have a full transcript. I can go on and on but if you view my website http://www.rogerslacaze.com you will see for yourself that not all death row inmates are suspose to be there. Thank you for your time

    R. LaCaze

  11. Hello I am a death row inmate in louisiana. I was convicted of a crime i had nothing to do with. Not only did i have nothing to do with it but there is nothing proving that I was even there. No DNA, no blood, no nothing. I have been here for 14 years. Since I was 18 years old. This is so unjust. My family has grown and my kids have had to live without me. My transcripts are missing, evidence is missing from my case and they expect me to go on apeal? By law I should not be able to because I do not have a full transcript. I can go on and on but if you view my website http://www.rogerslacaze.com you will see for yourself that not all death row inmates are suspose to be there. Thank you for your time

    R. LaCaze

  12. Hello I am a death row inmate in louisiana. I was convicted of a crime i had nothing to do with. Not only did i have nothing to do with it but there is nothing proving that I was even there. No DNA, no blood, no nothing. I have been here for 14 years. Since I was 18 years old. This is so unjust. My family has grown and my kids have had to live without me. My transcripts are missing, evidence is missing from my case and they expect me to go on apeal? By law I should not be able to because I do not have a full transcript. I can go on and on but if you view my website http://www.rogerslacaze.com you will see for yourself that not all death row inmates are suspose to be there. Thank you for your time

    R. LaCaze

  13. Thank you. I thought he was a goner by June 18, for sure, but it turns out the execution warrant had expired. Thank goodness Roland is safe. :)

  14. Thank you. I thought he was a goner by June 18, for sure, but it turns out the execution warrant had expired. Thank goodness Roland is safe. :)

  15. The rapists & slayers in uniform from Haditha & throughout Iraq & Afganistan & Waziristan get minimal sentences in a case or two & usually go about with impunity, while the innocents like Rogers Lacaze live whole lifetimes in the iron house for nothing they did & on the basis of nothing that's offered a "evidence ".

    Obama won't do a thing that won't first benefit him. He's gone into the house of Pharaoh, & he's not coming out for no presumed "brothers"who are running out of time. He doesn't act as if he's aware of any history of racism or anything at all when it comes to other people.

    Time & history won't be on his side when they jointly come for him, either.

  16. The rapists & slayers in uniform from Haditha & throughout Iraq & Afganistan & Waziristan get minimal sentences in a case or two & usually go about with impunity, while the innocents like Rogers Lacaze live whole lifetimes in the iron house for nothing they did & on the basis of nothing that’s offered a “evidence “.

    Obama won’t do a thing that won’t first benefit him. He’s gone into the house of Pharaoh, & he’s not coming out for no presumed “brothers”who are running out of time. He doesn’t act as if he’s aware of any history of racism or anything at all when it comes to other people.

    Time & history won’t be on his side when they jointly come for him, either.

  17. "If we are to abolish the death penalty, I should like to see the first step taken by my friends the murderers."
    Alphonse Karr

  18. “If we are to abolish the death penalty, I should like to see the first step taken by my friends the murderers.”
    Alphonse Karr

  19. Abolish the Death Penalty, an idea created for the 2nd edition of Ideas for Change in America. Currently 1st in Human Rights category and in position to be in the "Top 10" on March 11, 2010. Prestigious leading organizations have joined in support and forwarded the message, i.e. National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Journey of Hope… From Violence to Healing, Kids Against the Death Penalty, Students against the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty, Execution Chronicles, Coalition for Truth and Justice, World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, various Amnesty International groups, and hundredths of abolitionists worldwide.

    Change.org will host an event in Washington, D.C., where each of these "Top 10 Ideas" will be presented to the Obama Administration.

    Let's bring "Abolish the Death Penalty" to the White House!
    VOTE NOW @ http://tinyurl.change.org/TMCDB

  20. Abolish the Death Penalty, an idea created for the 2nd edition of Ideas for Change in America. Currently 1st in Human Rights category and in position to be in the "Top 10" on March 11, 2010. Prestigious leading organizations have joined in support and forwarded the message, i.e. National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Journey of Hope… From Violence to Healing, Kids Against the Death Penalty, Students against the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty, Execution Chronicles, Coalition for Truth and Justice, World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, various Amnesty International groups, and hundredths of abolitionists worldwide.

    Change.org will host an event in Washington, D.C., where each of these "Top 10 Ideas" will be presented to the Obama Administration.

    Let's bring "Abolish the Death Penalty" to the White House!
    VOTE NOW @ http://tinyurl.change.org/TMCDB

  21. Abolish the Death Penalty, an idea created for the 2nd edition of Ideas for Change in America. Currently 1st in Human Rights category and in position to be in the "Top 10" on March 11, 2010. Prestigious leading organizations have joined in support and forwarded the message, i.e. National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Journey of Hope… From Violence to Healing, Kids Against the Death Penalty, Students against the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty, Execution Chronicles, Coalition for Truth and Justice, World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, various Amnesty International groups, and hundredths of abolitionists worldwide.

    Change.org will host an event in Washington, D.C., where each of these "Top 10 Ideas" will be presented to the Obama Administration.

    Let's bring "Abolish the Death Penalty" to the White House!
    VOTE NOW @ http://tinyurl.change.org/TMCDB

  22. Abolish the Death Penalty, an idea created for the 2nd edition of Ideas for Change in America. Currently 1st in Human Rights category and in position to be in the “Top 10″ on March 11, 2010. Prestigious leading organizations have joined in support and forwarded the message, i.e. National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Journey of Hope… From Violence to Healing, Kids Against the Death Penalty, Students against the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty, Execution Chronicles, Coalition for Truth and Justice, World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, various Amnesty International groups, and hundredths of abolitionists worldwide.

    Change.org will host an event in Washington, D.C., where each of these “Top 10 Ideas” will be presented to the Obama Administration.

    Let’s bring “Abolish the Death Penalty” to the White House!
    VOTE NOW @ http://tinyurl.change.org/TMCDB