In his remarks during a surprise appearance before the press on Friday, President Obama, placed the national outrage over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman into the historical context of racial oppression, violence and disenfranchisement, drawing connections to the racial disparities in our criminal justice system overall.
“The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws,” stated President Obama.
He called on state and local governments to re-examine how their laws and conduct of law enforcement officers may be exacerbating, rather than alleviating racial tensions, and he called for a long-term effort for our country to make sure that young, African-American men have the support and opportunities they deserve to succeed—to feel a part of society that cares about them, values them and is willing to invest in them.
The over-representation of people of color on death row is the extreme end result of a criminal justice system plagued by socio-economic and racial bias. (See our chart of death row prisoners by race compared to state census figures.) When the President calls on us to re-examine state and local laws that disproportionately target people of color and exacerbate racial disparities, he is talking about the death penalty just as much as he is talking about other laws such as Florida’s stand your ground law.
Every state that has taken a careful look at the application of their death penalty system has found grave racial bias in sentencing, risk of executing an innocent person, and other fundamental flaws such as the systematic exclusion of jurors based on race or religious practice. It is time to recognize the death penalty is a failed public policy that does not serve to keep our communities safe. Let’s invest in the future of our young men and women instead, in bringing communities out of poverty, and in supporting those who are harmed by violence and crime!
Join the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s National Action Team now to be a part of ending capital punishment state-by-state, regardless of where you live!
Watch the president’s full statement here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obamas-remarks-on-trayvon-martin-full-transcript/2013/07/19/5e33ebea-f09a-11e2-a1f9-ea873b7e0424_story_1.html