By Derek Turner
Motivated by the tragic execution of Troy Davis in Georgia last September, the NAACP has renewed its fight to make the death penalty a part of America’s past. Over the next year, NAACP state representatives in several key states will urge their legislators to take the necessary steps to repeal the ultimate punishment.
“People in this country care about justice and fairness,” stated Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the National NAACP. “Unfortunately, Troy Davis’ case and too many other cases in our country demonstrate that these elements are sorely lacking in the application of capital punishment in this nation. African Americans and the poor are disproportionately handed this extreme punishment for the same offenses as their wealthier or White counterparts.”
While African Americans make up less than 13 percent of the total U.S. population, they compose 42 percent of those awaiting execution on death row and 35 percent of defendants executed in the U.S. since 1976.
“Racial bias and discrimination continues to infect the Maryland death penalty system,” said Gerald Stansbury, president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference. “This cannot be tolerated in a state with a longstanding commitment to equal justice for all.” The NAACP Maryland State Conference, in conjunction with several civil and human rights groups, launched its efforts to repeal the death penalty on January 10 in the state’s capital.
Besides the disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities, research indicates that the death penalty does not deter crime. The FBI Uniform Crime Report from 2008 showed that Southern states had the highest murder rate, but also accounted for over 80 percent of executions. Conversely, the Northeast, which has less than one percent of all executions, had the lowest murder rate.
“There is no evidence to show that the use of the death penalty prevents crime,” noted Ed Dubose, NAACP Georgia State Conference President. During a rally in Atlanta this January, Dubose also noted that the death penalty imposes an ultimate finality that cannot be reversed if innocence is later confirmed. More than 100 inmates have been exonerated after being sentenced to death in the United States.
Advocates of repealing capital punishment have also argued that using the death penalty is fiscally irresponsible in this economy. Statistics provided by states with the death penalty indicate that the punishment can cost more than $1 million more than the cost of a non-death penalty trial.
In fact, in 2008, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice found that the state spent an estimated $137 million per year on the death penalty. As Jealous suggested in a meeting with community leaders, “The resources saved from abolishing the death penalty could be used to pay for additional police officers to patrol the streets and for support services for victims of violent crimes.”
Public polling shows that in the wake of Troy Davis’s tragic execution, support for the death penalty is at an all-time low since it was reinstated in 1976. “The time has come for us all to come together and finish what our foremothers and forefathers started. We will end the death penalty, and we will do it in honor of Troy Davis,” remarked Jealous.
Derek Turner is the senior communications associate for the NAACP.