The Nation’s Racism, Virginia’s Death Penalty

June 5, 2020

black man strapped to an electric chairVirginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty has been fighting the racism and brutality infecting the criminal justice system since our inception in 1991.

Sadly, once again, with the horrific murder of George Floyd we are reminded of these outrages. And we are again committed to their eradication.

In 2000, the Joint Legislative and Review Commission (JLARC) published a Review of Virginia’s System of Capital Punishment. Researchers found that a person is more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death when the victim is white versus when the victim is black.

In 2003 the ACLU Capital Punishment Project released Broken Justice: The Death Penalty in Virginia. It found that the JLARC study underestimated the impact of race in Virginia’s death penalty system.

Nationally, the numbers are shockingly stark. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, among those executed for interracial murders in the United States, 295 black people were executed for killing white victims. Only 21 white perpetrators were executed for killing black victims.

Of the 1,390 documented executions carried out in Virginia since 1608, only four involved a white person killing a black man or woman, all of them since 1997.

Thus, it took 390 years for the Virginia criminal justice system to determine that the life of a black person, in limited circumstances, was equivalent in value to that of a white person.

The death penalty is a poster child for everything wrong with our criminal justice system – blatant racial disparities, police and prosecutor misconduct, and the propensity for convicting innocent men and women.

While in Virginia we can see the abolition of the death penalty in the near future, addressing the deep-seated issues of institutional racism and lack of accountability for police and prosecutor misconduct are deeper challenges.

However long and difficult the journey, VADP stands united with activists and protesters using their Constitutionally protected rights to petition government.

We urge all of those who believe capital punishment is a gross abuse of power to join us as we salute those on the front lines of change.

Kristina Leslie
VADP President

Michael Stone
VADP Executive Director