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Ohio issues highlighted in report on racial disparities in executions

Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal

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A line can be drawn from lynchings and other gross acts of historic racial discrimination and the fact that minorities disproportionately are executed now, according to a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Disparities in Ohio’s executions make an appearance of their own in the report.

“Racial bias in the death penalty as it is administered today is connected to America’s history of racial injustice and to the need for broader criminal legal system reform,” said the report, “Enduring Injustice: the Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty.”

Death sentences and executions have been at their lowest point nationally since the 1990s. In Ohio, nobody has died in the death chamber since January 2019, when incoming Gov. Mike DeWine delayed the execution of Warren Keith Henness days after news coverage of a U.S. magistrate’s finding that Ohio’s execution protocol was similar to waterboarding. DeWine has delayed all subsequent executions after drug makers have threatened to stop selling Ohio their products for any purpose if Ohio insists on using them to execute people.

But, as with the rest of the country, Black people and other minorities still have been overrepresented in Ohio’s death chamber.

Even though they make up just 13.4% of the population, 34% of those executed since the modern era of the death penalty began in 1977 have been Black, according to figures maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center, which serves as a clearinghouse for statistics on executions, death sentences, exonerations and other matters.

Ohio has slightly more Black people — 14.3% — but here, too, 34% of the 56 people who have been executed since 1977 have been Black.

Some argue that while Black people have disproportionately been executed, they also are disproportionately the victims of violent crimes such as murder that were committed by another Black person.

For example, FBI uniform crime statistics show that 2,925 — or 45% — of the homicide victims in the United States in 2018 were Black. They also show that 89% of the defendants in those crimes also are Black.

However, the new report from the Death Penalty Information Center presents statistics that indicate that something more is at play than Black-on-Black crime.

For example, it says that 75% of those executed in the modern era received the ultimate punishment for killing white people — even though only half of murder victims were white.

As reasons for the disparities, the report cites racial bias in policing, that 95% of elected prosecutors are white, disparities in legal representation and other matters.

Racial disparities also exist at the corners of Ohio, the report says.

“In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, four of the last six defendants sentenced to death have been Black,” it says, for example.

Between 1992 and 2017 in Hamilton County, “the odds that a Black defendant accused of killing a white victim would be sentenced to death were 5.33 times higher than for all other cases,” it says.

It adds that “Hamilton County is also one of the top 2% of counties responsible for the majority of U.S. executions, and it is the county that has produced the most Ohio executions in the modern era.”

The report concludes that racial bias in executions can not only be connected to injustices of the past, it said it’s connected to the issues so many have been on the streets in protest of this year.

“If we accept racial bias as inevitable when life or death is at stake, what chance is there that we will reject racial discrimination in policing, prosecution, and incarceration?” it asked.

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