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Racial discrimination in the administration of the death penalty

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  1. Introduction
  2. The current situation: statistical evidence and historical origins of racial discrimination in the administration of capital punishment
  3. Racial discrimination is able to pervade various stages of the process of capital punishment through some fundamental mechanisms and features of the American legal system
  4. Reforming the system and its institutions to get rid of these features is unrealistic; some precise changes and tools can be used to prevent racial discrimination from permeating the judiciary
  5. Conclusion

On 21 September 2011, Troy Davis, a 42 year-old African-American man convicted of the murder of a policeman in Savannah in 1989, was executed after a lengthy judicial process punctuated by numerous graces and ultimately ill-fated appeals. Troy Davis' case spurred a worldwide mobilization against the death penalty and a media uproar, as the defendant was widely regarded by the media and a majority of the public opinion as most likely innocent.

This execution caused the issue of racial discrimination in the death penalty in the United States to be pushed yet again to the forefront. Retraction of 7 of the 9 witnesses, contradictions in witness accounts, lack of DNA evidence, as well as accounts of pressure by the police on witnesses, all pointed to a less than thorough administration of justice.

Many held the view that the death penalty had been sought against Davis not as a punishment to an offender whose guilt had been asserted and verified. Rather, it was sought in response to the absolute need to find someone to punish for the assassination of a law enforcement officer. In this regard, many observers noted that Troy Davis presented the profile of the ideal culprit , being both poor and African-American. Though it is now impossible to determine Davis' guilt, the strong suspicion this case elicited regarding racial bias in the judicial process is noteworthy.

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