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African Americans are 12 percent of the U.S. population, but are 43 percent of prisoners on death row. Related Gully Coverage

Oklahoma Kills Black Lesbian

Act For Democracy
Resources to change America.

anti-death penalty rally

Anti-death penalty supporters of Wanda Jean Allen, Dec. 15, 2000, in Oklahoma. "Please let me live. Please let me live," Allen, 41, begged in a whisper during her clemency hearing. Allen was executed on Jan. 11. J. Pat Carter

United States

Why You Should Oppose the Death Penalty

If you are queer, or a woman who does not behave in socially acceptable ways, courts and juries are stacked against you, including those that can send you to death row. This is particularly true if, in addition to being queer, you are poor or not white.

The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the oldest and largest gay legal organization in the United States, is supporting an appeal by Gregory Scott Dickens, a gay man on death row in Arizona who is trying to obtain a new, unbiased trial. It has recently come to light that the judge who presided over his trial and personally sentenced him to death was at the same time writing vitriolic hate letters to his own gay son, saying among other things, "I hope you die in prison like all the rest of your faggot friends."

Lambda is also supporting an appeal by Calvin Burdine, a gay man whose lawyer slept through much of his murder trial. The prosecutor in his case urged the jury to sentence him to death, portraying Burdine as a danger to the community based on a 1971 conviction for consensual sodomy, and suggesting that, for a gay man, being incarcerated with other men would be enjoyable.

If anti-queer bias is not enough for you to oppose the death penalty, try ethics: if killing is wrong for an individual, it's wrong for cold bureaucratic machinery.

Or try the five compelling moral and pragmatic reasons given below by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty:

1) The death penalty is racist.

The 1972 Furman V. Georgia case abolished the death penalty for four years on the grounds that capital punishment was rife with racial disparities. Over twenty five years later, those disparities are as glaring as ever.

— African Americans are 12 percent of the U.S. population, but are 43 percent of prisoners on death row. Although Blacks constitute 50 percent of all murder victims, 83 percent of the victims in death penalty cases are white.

— Since 1976 only ten executions involved a white defendant who had killed a Black victim.

— In all, only 37 of the over 18,000 executions in this country's history involved a white person being punished for killing a Black person.

— A comprehensive Georgia study found that killers of whites are 4.3 times more likely to receive a death sentence than killers of Blacks.

— More than 75 percent of those on federal death row are non-white. Of the 156 federal death penalty prosecutions approved by the Attorney General since 1988, 74 percent of the defendants were non-white.

2) The death penalty punishes the poor.

"One searches our chronicles in vain for the execution of any member of the affluent strata in this society." - Justice William O. Douglas.

— If you can afford good legal representation, you won't end up on death row.

— Over 90 percent of defendants charged with capital crimes are indigent and cannot afford to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent them. They are forced to use inexperienced, underpaid court-appointed attorneys.

— In most states the pay for court appointed attorneys is so low that lawyers assigned to capital cases will lose $20-$30 an hour if they do an adequate job. In Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi defense attorneys are paid a flat fee of $1,000—which translates into about 5 dollars an hour for most lawyers.

— In 1996 Clinton cut federal funding to 20 legal resource centers which provided counsel to poor defendants. Now, all of the centers that received this funding have shut down.

— Many capital trials last less than a week— hardly enough time to present a good defense.

3) The death penalty condemns the innocent to die.

— Since 1976, more than 82 people have been released from prison after being sentenced to death despite their innocence. In other words, 1 in 7 of those on death row have been freed after being fully exonerated.

— The book, "In Spite of Innocence," notes that between 1900 and 1992 there have been 416 documented cases of innocent persons who have been convicted and given a death sentence. The authors discovered that in 23 of these cases, the person was executed.

— Illinois has released as many from death-row as it has executed since 1976. As a result, an Illinois Supreme Court Justice said, "Despite the courts' efforts to fashion a death penalty scheme that is just..., the system is not working. Innocent people are being sentenced to death... If this is the best our state can do, we have no business sending people to their deaths."

— President Clinton has called appeals by death-row prisoners "ridiculous" and "interminable." He signed a law that limits prisoners to a single habeas corpus appeal within one year of conviction. Under this law, many of those released from death row due to innocence since 1976 would be dead.

4) The death penalty is not a deterrent to violent crime.

— An FBI study shows that states which have abolished the death penalty averaged lower murder rates than states which have not.

5) The death penalty is "cruel and unusual punishment."

— In the decades since Furman 13 people have been executed who were under the age of 18 when they committed the crime for which they were convicted. Seventy more juveniles are currently on death row awaiting execution.

— Since Furman 34 mentally retarded inmates have been executed.

Related links:

To demand a national moratorium on executions, including in Oklahoma, go to the ACLU anti-Death Penalty site.

For the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

For Calvin Burdine's story, scroll down Amnesty International's The Death Penalty In Texas: Legal Injustice.

In Depth

Color and Cash
race and classThe Gully's complete coverage of race and class, two intertwined pillars of American society.

Gay Mundo
gay pride
The Gully's ultragay coverage. Includes musings on activism, info on queers from Guatemala to Puerto Rico and more.

Bush Plus
U.S. politics and the Bush administration All about George W. Bush, Dems, Greens, GOPs, and the morass of U.S. politics.

New World
new worldOur Americas. Politics, democracies, failed utopias, and the sullen heirs of colonialism: from Canada to Argentina.

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