Yes, it’s Wednesday morning. At 8 am to be exact, every college student’s favorite time, I mean most college kids only see 8 am if they haven’t been to bed yet, but I’m hear and giving a talk to a race relations class on race and the death penalty. (By the way, if you kids think that 8:00 is early, someone mapquest the trip from Nashville to Bethel, so the math, and realize that I was up at 4:45 this morning. UGH!)
Actually, I was asked to do another presentation, right afterwards, to a sociology class, so I want to make these distinct presentations. But where does one begin to talk about race and the death penalty?
Why not at the founding of the country? This is not the tactic I’d take with everyone, but in a college race class, let’s dig up some roots (since I’ve got an hour). Let’s look at the development of the slave economy leading to a high concentration of blacks in the South (and let’s dispel the illusion that the North wasn’t racist and just remember that until after the civil war, there was a relatively tiny number of blacks in the North). And let’s remember that slave owners became obsessed with the fear of slave insurrection. And even more frightened when those slaves were free. How do we control these people? Extra-legally, with lynching, the KKK, etc. “Legally” with executions. Now the link between lynching and execution has been hard to pin down scientifically, but there are some serious connections that we should look at. For just a few:
– These are (primarily) Southern phenomena
– They are, generally, white-on-black punishment for black-on-white crime
– They are “necessary” to maintain social order (specifically to protect white women – check out the stats on executions for rape for instance)
– Both have defenders who claim states’ rights and want Washington to stay out of the way they run things.
So that’s a good place to start our discussion, followed closely by the fairly poor due process in the current death penalty system, which can lead to the issue of innocence as well (and the number of exonerees that have been people of color. And that, is how we git ‘er done!
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