End Capital Punishment Now

by Nik Mitchell, PhD

Senate Bill 142 and House Bill 141 propose to eliminate capital punishment in Louisiana during this Legislative session. Overall, capital punishment is inherently immoral because it violates the condemned’s right to life. It is also a pointless practice, not a deterrent for crime, and a waste of money, time, and manpower. In conceptualization and practice, capital punishment is a continued exercise in futility and too often is an expression of White privilege.

With regard to the conceptualization of capital punishment, it is a faulty practice that relies on the infallibility of the criminal justice system which does not exist; this makes the entire endeavor futile. According to Frank R. Baumgartner and Tim Lyman, from 1976 to 2015 out of 155 resolved death-sentence cases in Louisiana, 127 were reversed, which includes nine exonerations’ and 28 ended in execution.[1] Nine people were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death by the State since 1976. It is inhumane and immoral to continue a practice in light of a criminal justice system that cannot guarantee that no innocent person will not be put to death. There is no acceptable margin of error in this regard. 

With regard to the practice of capital punishment being an expression of White privilege, it has been and continues to be a racist practice. The last White person in Louisiana to be executed when the victim was Black was a soldier found guilty of stabbing two enslaved Black Women with a bayonet in 1752, which predates the French and Indian War. The data provided by Baumgartner and Lymann shows that between 1976 and 2015 the capital punishment rate for cases in which a Black male killed a Black male was .52 percent, a Black male killed a Black female was 1.44 percent, a Black male killed a White male was 4.27 percent, and a Black male killed a White female was 15.56 percent.

Comparatively, the capital punishment rate for cases in which a White male killed a Black male was .87 percent, a White male killed a Black female was 6.25 percent, a White male Killed a White male was 3.08 percent, and a White male killed a White female was 4.04 percent. The data show that a Black male convicted of killing a White female is 29.9 times more likely to result in the capital punishment than when a Black male kills a Black male and is 10.8 times more likely to than when a Black male kills a Black female. This reveals a racial bias in the application of the capital punishment.

Either argument—faulty practice or expression of White privilege—provides sufficient grounds for abolishing capital punishment in the State of Louisiana. I understand why capital punishment invokes so much emotion. It is understandable to want revenge when a loved one has been violated or killed. The crimes that trigger capital punishment rightly cause revulsion in society. The anger and outrage is just and the pain is real. It is safe to say that the majority of the people of Louisiana support capital punishment is some circumstances. They are wrong.

N.B. Senate Bill 142 was passed by a Senate Judiciary Committee by a 6 to 1 vote on April 26th and now goes to the Senate for a vote. 

[1] Baumgartner, Frank and Lyman, Tim, Louisiana Death Sentenced Cases and Their Reversals, 1976-2015 (April 26, 2016). The Southern University Law Center Journal of Race, Gender, and Poverty, Vol. 7, 2016 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2770761