Twenty-two condemned men were put to death in the U.S. in 2019. All but two of the executions were carried out in former Confederate States of America.
Southern states, especially those with historical ties to the Confederacy, have always shared a fondness for state-sanctioned killing, most often for racially motivated reasons. 1237 of the 1512 people executed in the United States since 1976—the year the U.S. Supreme Court gave permission to the States to resume executions-were put to death in death chambers in Southern prisons.
Texas Leads Pack in Executions, Again
Texas, with 567 executions since 1976, once again led the way in 2019 carrying out 9 of the year’s twenty-two executions. Three other former Confederate states—Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee—carried out three executions apiece in 2019. Florida tried to keep pace with 2 executions while Missouri (which was more of a Confederate than a Union state—and South Dakota carried out just one execution each.
Of the twenty-two men put to death, 13 of them were white, 8 were African-Americans, and 1 was Latino, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). With African-Americans comprising just slightly more than 12 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Bureau of Census, they were over-represented in the nation’s killing machine in 2019 in comparison to the white and Latino populations.
The twenty-two executed men were convicted of killing 31 victims—23 whites and 8 African Americans.
Racial Disparity in Application of Death Penalty
Embedded in these numbers is the historical racially-motivated bias that offenders who kill white victims are far more likely to receive the death penalty, especially when the killings occur in the former Confederate States of America. This is especially true if the offender is African-American and the victim is white. This racial bias can be traced to the fact that when the death penalty was available in rape cases in the twentieth century, 89 percent of the men executed for this crime were African-Americans—with virtually all of their victims being white women.
Texas Executes Senior Citizen After 28 Years on Death Row
Texas had the distinction of executing the oldest man in 2019, and the oldest man in its history—70-year-old Billie Coble who had spent a staggering 28 years on that state’s death row.
The average age of the men executed in 2019 was 50 years of age and they had spent an average of 21 years on death row.
Missouri had the distinction of executing a man suffering from a painful terminal illness while Tennessee had the distinction of executing a blind man.
The nation’s Latino population had the lowest representation in the nation’s death penalty arena. Although homicide is the second leading cause of death among Hispanics between ages 15 and 24, only one Latino offender was executed last year and not one of the twenty-two executions involved a Latino victim. This despite the fact that Hispanics are twice as likely as whites to be victims of homicide in the U.S.
Courts Block Federal Executions
One bright spot in the nation’s death penalty arena was that the federal courts blocked the Trump administration from carrying out five scheduled executions of federal inmates. Last July, Attorney General William Barr, at the president’s insistence, ordered the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions for five condemned inmates after a two decade moratorium. A federal judge sitting in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia blocked those executions in November 2019. One week later the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a bid by the Trump administration to have the district court order reversed.
It is past time for America to put an end to the death penalty. It is a dark relic of a time in this country when justice was defined by vengeance. This was particularly so in the South—a region of the country, including the state of Texas, which once believed it was both legitimate and just to torture and execute a race of people who refused to obediently accept their enslavement. The racist justification of Jim Crow era lynching continues to infect the criminal justice system and feed race-based dipartites in the application of the “justice,” especially in the application of the death penalty.
It is from this terrible historical soil that today’s death penalty flourishes—the reason why 20 of the nation’s twenty-two executions in 2019 were carried out in former Confederate States of America.