Justice

Killing A White Person Is Almost The Only Reason Murderers Ever Receive The Death Penalty

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

Black men constitute 61 percent of homicide victims in Louisiana — nearly 13,000 black men were killed in this state since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Yet only three people have been executed for killing a black man in all of this time. That’s less than 6 percent of the rate of executions for individuals who kill someone other than a black man, and 1/48th of the execution rate for people who kill white women, according to a study that will appear in the Loyola University of New Orleans Journal of Public Interest Law.

The study, by Frank Baumgartner and Tim Lyman, reveals stark racial disparities in death sentences and executions. Though African Americans make up 72 percent of murder victims in Louisiana, people who kill black men or women constitute only 33 percent of those sentenced to death and only 21 percent of those who are actually executed. White people, by contrast, make up 26 percent of victims but their killers make up 79 percent of people who are executed.

Though this study focused on data from Louisiana, other studies confirm that its findings stretch well beyond this one state. A study of the death penalty in Texas, for example, found that “defendants are six times more likely to receive a death sentence if they kill the highest status victims (whites or Hispanics who have college degrees, are married, and have no criminal record), compared to those defendants who kill the lowest status victims (black or Asian victims who were single, with a prior criminal record, and no college degree).” Another examination of national statistics found that “only 10 whites have been executed in the modern era for the crime of killing a black male, with six additional cases where a black male was one of multiple victims, including victims of other races or genders.”