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Post- Furman Research: Data From the Modern Era, 1976 to 2016

Reformers were anxious to see if the post -Furman statutory improvements would reduce racial biases in the administration of the death penalty. The fi rst execution under the post- Furman guidelines took place in Utah on January 17, 1977, and involved a white defendant convicted of killing a white male victim. The next four executions (two in 1979, one each in 1981 and 1982) also involved white defendants with white victims. The sixth execution, which occurred in Texas in December of 1982, was a black man convicted of killing a white man. The following three executions, all in 1983, were white defendants with white victims, and the tenth execution, in Louisiana during December of 1983, was a black defendant convicted of murdering a white man. In other words, eight of the fi rst ten defendants executed under modern death penalty statutes were white. Perhaps more importantly, the victims were white in nine of the ten cases. That trend concerning race of defendant did not con- tinue very long. Table 31.1 contains a racial breakdown of the 1,437 defendants executed in the U.S. from the time the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 until October 1, 2016, as well as the victims associated with these cases. Table 31.2 presents the combinations of the races of the defendants and victims for the 1,403 defendants who did not have multiple victims of different races (34 individuals executed since Furman did have multiple victims of different races). Data for both of these tables were retrieved from the most recent Death Row U.S.A. quarterly report sponsored by the LDF (Fins, 2016).

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Raw numbers like the ones in Tables 31.1 and 31.2 have often been presented as evidence of racial disparities in the application of the death penalty in this country. For example, Table 31.1 shows that 34.52% of those executed were African American, while African Americans make up only 13.3% of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). More specifi cally, all but four executed blacks were men, and black males comprise 6 to 7% of the population. But, are such numbers enough to estab- lish true racial disparities within the system? What if individuals of a certain race are more prone to

Table 31.1 Race of Defendants Executed Post-Furman Through October 1, 2016.

Race Defendants (N = 1,437)

Victims (N = 2,106)

N % N %

White 799 55.60 1,593 75.64

Black 496 34.52 323 15.34

Hispanic 119 8.28 145 6.89

Native American 16 1.11 5 0.24

Asian 7 0.49 40 1.90

Table 31.2 Defendant/Victim Racial Combinations (n = 1403).

Race of Defendants (N = 1403)

Race of Victims

White Black Other Race

N % N % N %

White 740 52.74 20 1.43 23 1.64

Black 282 20.10 167 11.90 35 2.49

Other Race 67 4.78 3 0.21 66 4.70

Total: 1,089 77.62 190 13.54 124 8.84

 

 

31 Race and the Death Penalty

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