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September 28, 2010

Eager for a running start on our discussion of the death penalty

As previewed in class, there are soooooo many topics on which our Friday death penalty discussion can focus.  For that reason (and others), I am eager to get a running start of the death penalty dialogue vie this blog.  Specifically, I hope students will use the flag specific issue concerning the modern administration of the death penalty that they want us to discuss during Friday's class.  

To provide some background, I encourage everyone to check out some of the materials at the Death Penalty Information Center's website.  Though the DPIC site is a bit biased because of the organization's disaffinity for capital punishment, the site provides a lot of fascinating basic information about executions and death row and death penalty history and lots of other topics.  And this DPIC fact sheet provides everything you need to know about the reality of the modern death penalty in four simple pages.

September 28, 2010 in Class reflections, Course materials and schedule | Permalink


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The statistics presented on this Death Penalty Fact Sheet are bothersome. Looked at in the best light, they are sloppy and don't present their case as strongly as they should. Looked at it in the worst light, they are intentionally misleading and inflammatory. I know that statistics can be used to say pretty much whatever you want to say, but we should be cautious when reading these particular statistics.

For example, this page states that "Over 75% of the murder victims in cases resulting in cases resulting in an execution were white even though nationally only 50% of murder victims generally are white." The reader is supposed to have an emotional response to this statistic and immediately feel that our criminal justice system is inherently racist and that the life of a white person is treated as more valuable than the life of a black person. What is left out is any discussion which would clarify and possibly strengthen this statistic. Are black murder victims killed by more than one offender in a majorty of cases? Are white murder victims killed in the commission of another felony more often? Etc. Who knows? What would be much more compelling would be statistics which showed something like this: "We looked at 1000 cases where whites were murdered by first-time offenders during the commission of armed robbery and compared that to 1000 cases where blacks were murdered by first-time offenders during the commission of armed robbery. We found that when the victims were black, the prosecutor was 14 times more likely to offer a plea to a lessor charge than when the victims were white." (This is of course ficticious, but it is the type of statistic that would be more responsible than those given by deathpenaltyinfo.org)

On a side note, I personally oppose capital punishment as it is currently applied in the U.S. and I do think that it is prejudicially applied. However, I still think that deathpenaltyinfo.org, while trying to make good points and do good works, is careless in its presentation of its death penalty statistics.

Posted by: Keith Edwards (student) | Sep 30, 2010 9:23:12 AM

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