A BBC Newshour report, this morning (autdio link) suggests that Indonesia’s decision to execute three Christians yesterday, for their role in a 1998 Christian-Muslim conflict, might have been strategic. For example, there are several Muslims on death row for the Bali bombing. And other Muslims are facing trial, and potentially the death penalty, for the same Sulewesian rioting that gave rise to yesterday’s executions. The commentators suggested that in order for the Muslim government to execute Muslims, it may have been strategically wise to execute the Christians first.
This may be a cynical use of death, but I wonder whether some states have run similar calculations. African-Americans are disparately represented on American death rows, vis a vis their percentage of the overall population. The race critique of capital punishment has had a fair degree of traction (compared, at least, to many other criticisms.) Do some jurisdictions attempt to protect their capital scheme from such attacks by executing whites at a faster rate than African-Americans, notwithstanding the overall demographic of death row? In Alabama, for example, from 1999-2005, across two gubernatorial administrations, 12 of 17 people executed were white. And from 2002-2005, all eleven people executed were white. This in a state where almost half of death row is populated by African-Americans. I recognize that each case proceeds at its own pace – to some degree – but I’m curious whether the goal of legitimizing capital punishment ever plays into the decisions of which individuals a state seeks to execute first. (And yes, I do think it’s worth noting that at this final stage, there might actually be an anti-white bias in imposition of the sanction, notwithstanding my suspicion that – at earlier stages – the bias seems to cut the opposite way.)
This is not an accusation. I don’t have any answers. I’m simply curious about the degree to which all decisions about the death penalty – from charging all the way to seeking a warrant – might be driven by the needs of external legitimacy, rather than by broader moral, or narrower individualized, concerns.