Can Capital Punishment Survive if Black Lives Matter?

In Michael Cholbi, Brandon Hogan, Alex Madva & Benjamin Yost (eds.), The Movement for Black Lives: Philosophical Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press (2021)
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Abstract

Drawing upon empirical studies of racial discrimination dating back to the 1940’s, the Movement for Black Lives platform calls for the abolition of capital punishment. Our purpose here is to defend the Movement’s call for death penalty abolition in terms congruent with its claim that the death penalty in the U.S. is a “racist practice” that “devalues Black lives.” We first sketch the jurisprudential history of race and capital punishment in the U.S., wherein courts have occasionally expressed worries about racial injustice but have usually taken such evidence to warrant reform but not outright abolition. We argue that the racial discrimination at issue flows in significant part from implicit biases concerning race, criminality, and violence, which do not fit comfortably within the picture of racial bias advanced by the courts. The case for abolition, we contend, rests on Black Americans as a class (not merely those who interact with the criminal justice system as capital defendants or as murder victims) being subject to such bias and thereby not being accorded equal status under the law.

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Michael Cholbi
University of Edinburgh

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