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Like America itself, the death penalty has a racist past it has yet to reckon with.
Some of the first capital crime laws in the colonies were written in response to a New York slave riot in 1712, when a group of slaves broke free and killed some white people. 21 slaves were sentenced to death, 20 being executed by burning and one died on a breaking wheel.
Many Southern states saw execution as a fitting punishment to crimes like bruising their owners. This mentality of capital punishment as social control of black people has stayed in the national mentality.
“If the death penalty were to be removed from our statute-book, the tendency to commit deeds of violence would be heightened owing to this negro problem,” Arkansas governor George Hays said in 1927. In the face of race riots in the ‘60s, figures like George Wallace emboldened law enforcement to call for the death penalty to keep the “urban” population in check.
These instances of covert and overt racism in the justice system led to a death penalty that exists to protect white people and punish people of color.
Though worse in the South, a Santa Clara Law study found that while white Californians only represent about a quarter of homicide victims, people who kill white people make up 50 percent of the offenders given the death penalty.
This not only shatters the misguided argument that All Lives Matter in the eye of the law, it exposes the arbitrary way the death penalty is applied to homicide cases. With capital punishment applied at the prosecutor’s discretion, systemic inequalities can easily continue, and this means the state should cease to participate in the killing of its own citizens, especially when it has cost taxpayers billions of dollars since being reinstituted in 1978.
Proposition 66 would streamline a mechanism that is fundamentally broken, taking away the right of individuals to challenge their guilt before being put to death in a system that has been wrong far too often to be considered infallible. The Experience encourages you to Vote ‘yes’ on Prop 62 and ‘no’ on 66. End injustice, don’t hasten it.