Exploring the Racist Past and Present of the American Death Penalty
The death penalty is a direct descendent of racial terror lynchings that have been perpetrated on African Americans since their arrival in the U.S., as well as other people of color and those without position or power. Fueled by the myths of racial superiority and white supremacy, the torture and murder of Black people has historically been overlooked, and even sanctioned by the government.
It’s no coincidence that the frequency of state executions began to increase just as lynchings started to decline in the beginning of the 20th century. Lawmakers justified their support of capital punishment by claiming that without it, white residents would continue to implement mob justice on their Black neighbors. The death penalty is the modern incarnation of hundreds of years of racial control that began with slavery and became the underpinning of our entire legal system. While the method of execution has changed over time, from hanging to electrocution, and from firing squad to lethal injection; the practice has always been cruel and unusual.
Today, African Americans continue to receive the death penalty at higher rates than individuals of any other race and the vast majority of individuals who have been executed were sentenced to death for killing white victims. From Noose to Needle was created to highlight the connection between racial terror lynchings and the modern day death penalty.