California became the latest state to halt the death penalty, just one of the many elements in the criminal justice system that has been plagued by racism and discrimination.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday he will impose an indefinite moratorium on carrying out the death penalty, underscoring the excessive cost and racism in the system.
Nationwide, capital punishment is on the decline, the Washington Post noted. There were 98 executions in 1999 compared to 25 in 2018. Newsom joined his counterparts in Pennsylvania and Oregon who imposed similar moratoriums. Legislatures and courts in other states, including Maryland, Connecticut and Illinois, have also halted capital punishment.
“I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people,” Newsom said in a statement.
Indeed, discrimination is woven into the fabric of how capital punishment is imposed. Black people make up 13 percent of the population, but they represent 42 percent of death row inmates and 35 percent of those executed, according to the NAACP. The victim’s race also influences which convicted murders are executed. Homicides involving white victims are more likely to result in the death penalty.
This wave of capital punishment moratoriums was coming against the backdrop of much discussion and planning in Washington and some state capitals about criminal justice reform. While ending the death penalty was a step in that direction, there was much more to address when it comes to racism in the system.
Nationwide, African-American men are disproportionately victims of wrongful convictions and police misconduct, according to a 2017 report from the National Registry of Exonerations.
“Many of the convictions of African-American murder exonerees were affected by a wide range of types of racial discrimination, from unconscious bias and institutional discrimination to explicit racism,” the researchers said.
Black people comprised 47 percent of the 1,900 exonerations in the registry, yet African-Americans represent just 13 percent of the U.S. population. Innocent Black people were seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent white people.
Other findings from the study showed that African-Americans imprisoned for murder are more likely to be innocent if they were convicted of killing white victims. Only about 15 percent of murders by African-Americans have white victims, but 31 percent of innocent African-American murder exonerees were convicted of killing white people.
Law enforcement corruption is another serious issue. Police misconduct was 22 percent more likely to occur in wrongful murder convictions of innocent Black people.