Opinion: The death penalty utilizes...racism? 

Barbed wire surrounds a tower at a prison. (Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)

Barbed wire surrounds a tower at a prison. (Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that every citizen has the right to due process of the law before being sentenced. This would therefore protect citizens’ right to life, liberty and property. To an average citizen, this amendment seems fair; it protects people. However, this amendment cannot possibly protect people when a system plagued by racism fails to abide by it. 

Capital punishment, commonly referred to as the death penalty, has been used in the U.S. ever since the nation was only 13 colonies. Today, 20 states have abolished it, three have a moratorium on it and 27 states still use it. Many states that have abolished the death penalty have cited racial bias as the main reason, including Washington, which abolished the death penalty only days ago. 

In a plethora of cases, inmates have been sentenced, and, upon being reviewed, racial bias has played a part. When this occurs, it is often racist sentiments directed towards African American men. 

In 2017, inmate Duane Buck’s case was brought before the Supreme Court. Buck was set to be executed for the 1995 murder of two women and because he was seen as a future danger in the state of Texas. A group called the National Black Law Students Association filed a brief, believing that his case was influenced by racism. 

“When an expert witness told the jury that Mr. Buck was dangerous because he is black, he dredged up into the open for all members of the jury to see the monstrous specter that is never far from the surface: the violent black brute, the single most fearful, dehumanizing and cruel stereotype black people have had to endure,” Deborah N. Archer, a lawyer for the National Black Law Students Association, said in an article for CNN.

The Supreme Court changed Buck’s sentence to life in prison in order to ensure that racial bias would not cost Buck his life. 

People cannot be sentenced to death on the basis that they are a certain race. The U.S. legal system should penalize people based on what they have done, not the uncontrollable factor of who they are. 

A similar case occurred with inmate Rodney Reed, who was convicted for abducting, raping and murdering Stacey Stites, a white woman. The forensic scientist for the case brought forth evidence that strongly suggested that Reed and Stites had had consensual sex, which the court had previously dismissed as being absurd, as a white woman could not have possibly have had any kind of consensual relationship with an African American man. 

There was no clear evidence that Reed had even killed her at the time; Reed’s then-fiancé, who was a white police officer, was a suspect in the crime up until Reed was convicted. 

I am in no way saying that these people should not have been convicted at all. The problem lies in the fact that death is irreversible. As shown through cases that could have easily been influenced by racism, the death penalty is biased, and a sentence such as life in prison would be much more fair and just, as the fate of their lives would not hinge on their race. 

According to Al Jazeera, the majority of prisoners on death row are people of color. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) states that over 43 percent of inmates executed on death row since 1976 have been people of color.  

If our legal system relies on something that is clearly plagued by racial bias, how are people possibly getting the “due process” that the 14th Amendment promises? The only way to fix this cycle of racism is to eradicate the death penalty entirely. Death is irreversible, but jail time is not. 

If we, as a society, want all people to be treated fairly, one of the first steps is to realize that the death penalty is a biased form of punishment that relies heavily on a person’s race. As a part of the newest generation of voters, we must acknowledge that the death penalty unfairly targets people for who they are and definitely does not ensure due process of the law. 


Anika Veeraraghav is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at anika.veeraraghav@uconn.edu.