People of African Descent and the Retention of the Death Penalty

Authored by: Noel Otu

The Routledge Handbook on Africana Criminologies

Print publication date:  December  2020
Online publication date:  December  2020

Print ISBN: 9780367435721
eBook ISBN: 9781003004424
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter explores the question of whether the history of colonization, slave trade, slavery, lynching, and racial discrimination against people of African descent plays a role in the retention of the death penalty in the world. People of African descent live in many countries of the world, either dispersed among a community’s local population or in a separate community. Whether they are descendants of Africans who were displaced during the transatlantic slave trade or are recent immigrants who migrated to Europe, the Americas, Asia, etc. and even those within the African continent, the fact is that they may be the most marginalized group in the world. Today, there is growing evidence that racial bias continues in many societies, and it affects the use of the death penalty. The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is a government-sanctioned practice whereby a person is killed by the state as punishment for a crime or crimes. This chapter reveals that the suffering caused to people of African descent by colonialism, the slave trade, slavery, and lynching persisted for a long time, and it is among the factors that influenced and encouraged the continued use and retention of the death penalty. Today, it is very clear that the death penalty is the stepchild of lynching, and there is a correlation between lynching and the death penalty. Evidence shows that a diversification process has been occurring whereby the eradication of one evil act gives birth to another. Colonization gave way to the slave trade and slavery, which gave way to lynching and the death penalty, all with the aim of putting people of African descent in their “proper place.” Countries, states, and regions in Americas that carry out the most executions today are the same places where lynching was more likely to have taken place. In the final analysis, research shows that the death penalty is both the intended and unintended consequence of decades of wealthy political leaders and/or White people preying on the powerless, often on the people of African descent, and doing everything in their considerable power to keep that power, which has resulted in race- and class-based resentment and the retention of the death penalty.

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