By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN
The obscene manner in which Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is racing towards what observers call “conveyor belt executions” – putting eight murderers to death in 10 days, four of them blacks in a state where African Americans are under 14 percent of the population – has drawn not just understandable condemnation but also has added fuel to the fire of opposition to capital punishment.
Courts including the U.S. Supreme Court, have temporarily halted the executions, two of which were scheduled for last Monday night, not because of concerns for the imposition of the death penalty itself but because of the manner in which it is being conducted.
The most common method is by injecting drugs into the veins of the condemned person through a drug “cocktail.” Arkansas is running out of the drugs to do so, hence the haste, and they are partly stymied by lawsuits filed by pharmaceutical companies that want their products to save lives, not take them.
Other cases focusing on the death penalty have challenged its constitutionality – whether it is cruel and unusual. The U.S. Supreme Court, in fact, issued rulings which, in 1972, effectively abolished capital punishment but reinstated it in 1976. And while many exonerations have taken place because of racial bias in convictions and sentencing, that in itself has not led to any ruling that outlaws the death penalty. Of all the arguments against executions, the most compelling is racial bias in the criminal justice system, regarded by some as a direct legacy of slavery.
The Death Penalty Information Center reported that since 1976, 498 blacks were put to death or 34.5 percent of the total, although African Americans are only 13 percent of the population. In the same period, 807 whites were executed, or 55.6 percent, although whites are more than 70 percent of the population.
The number of blacks awaiting execution is more than 1,215 or 41.67 percent of the total, compared with 1,226 whites or 42.23 percent. Florida has the second largest number of death row inmates after California: 395, of whom 153 are blacks, although blacks are less than 17 percent of the population.
In addition, the National Registry of Exonerations reported that: * Blacks are seven times more likely than whites to be convicted of murder.
* Blacks convicted of murder are roughly 50 percent more likely to be innocent than others.
This high rate of conviction is linked to the race of the victims: white.
Further, according to a New York Times report on Sept. 7, 1991, whites are rarely executed for killing blacks: A white person convicted of killing a black man was executed a day earlier – the first in at least 1,000 executions in more than 50 years.
And the Guardian reported on Jan. 3, 2012, that, in Alabama, 80 percent of death sentences were handed down against blacks in the case of white victims.
Such statistics alone should be enough to abolish the death penalty Americans have persisted in clinging to ever since George Kendall of the Jamestown colony in Virginia became the first person executed in 1608. Down the years, people were put to death even for petty crimes such as “stealing grapes, killing chickens and trading with Indians,” according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Imposition of the death penalty has long since become a matter for states and it is used mostly in cases of murder; only a small number of offences come under federal prosecution.
Nations’ killing their subjects dates back to at least the 18th century B.C., according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and the practice came to the United States with European settlers. Opposition arose not long afterwards.
Public support has been declining over years and today 19 states have abolished the death penalty. The number of people sentenced to die and the number executed have dropped sharply.
Still, all that has done is dropping the United States from fifth to seventh place in the world among nations that execute their citizens – in the company of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt, according to Amnesty International.
Although 140 countries have abolished capital punishment, the U.S. has refused to ratify any international treaty outlawing the death penalty and is the only nation in the West and in the Americas to execute people.
Whatever the reasons for the decline, it is absolutely ridiculous for a government to tell citizens not to kill and then turn around and kill those who do. And it is totally impossible to conceive of a more barbaric spectacle than a group of people gathered together to watch that happen.