On Thursday the Delaware House will consider SB40, the bill to repeal the death penalty. Repealing the death penalty is an important first step towards racial justice and fairness in our criminal justice system.
Patterns of racial profiling, the selective enforcement of laws against people of color, stop-and-frisk policies, and charging and sentencing decisions disproportionately impact people of color who experience contact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system at far greater rates than white people. The death penalty is no different and is substantially influenced by systematic racial bias.
A recent Cornell University study found that more than 70% of death sentences in Delaware were imposed in cases where the victim was white, even though the majority of murder victims over the same time period were Black, showing how white life continues to be valued differently than Black lives. We cannot support a system where the color of one’s skin significantly impacts whether are sentenced to die or to spend life in prison.
Racial bias also exacerbates the risk of executing an innocent person. Eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction and is even less reliable when the witness is identifying someone of a different race. Of the 156 death row exonerees in the US since 1973, 60% are Black or Latino.
Our criminal justice system should treat all people equally, regardless of how much money they make, where they live, or the color of their skin. Delaware’s death penalty is applied unevenly and unfairly, even for similar crimes. A system that is so arbitrary should not be allowed to choose who lives and who dies.
Despite decades of evidence showing that the administration of the death penalty is a failed measure of public policy, the legislature’s refusal to meaningfully address these racial disparities undermines the integrity of the entire criminal justice system.
I urge our lawmakers to vote yes on SB40 and to put Delaware on the right side of history.