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Death Penalty in the US

This research examines the death penalty in the US, especially its impact on African-Americans. The research will set forth the context in which the issue of capital punishment has met the experience of African-Americans, and then discuss the states that have the death penalty, the ratio of African-Americans to other races on death row in each state, and the ratio of African-Americans to other races put to death in each capital-punishment state in the last 10 years.

To understand the impact of the death penalty on African-Americans in recent years it is necessary to examine the structure of capital punishment that has emerged in recent American history, which in significant part has organized itself around the impact of racism on civil society. Historically, nonwhites were likely to receive death-penalty sentences and were sentenced in numbers out of proportion to their population (Clark, 1970, p. 335). In particular, nonwhites convicted of raping whites were most likely to be executed. Documentation of unfair application appears to have been largely responsible for the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in 1972 to declare the death penalty unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment, under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments state laws for sentencing capital defendants (Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238). Capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, based on Supreme Court majority rulings on constitutionality of laws rewritten to conform to Furman. Since that time, 34 states have reinstated the death penalty (Liebman, Fagan, & West, 2000, p. 14). But the issue is far from settled in public discourse. Advocates and opponents of capital punishment continue their debate and efforts to assure that public policy conform with their view.

The scope of capital punishment in the US was rather stable over the course of the 1990s. However, in 2000, Illinois instituted a moratorium on the practice, about which more will be said hereafter. Foll...

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