From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America

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Since 1976, over forty percent of prisoners executed in American jails have been African American or Hispanic. This trend shows little evidence of diminishing, and follows a larger pattern of the violent criminalization of African American populations that has marked the country's history of punishment.

In a bold attempt to tackle the looming question of how and why the connection between race and the death penalty has been so strong throughout American history, Ogletree and Sarat headline an interdisciplinary cast of experts in reflecting on this disturbing issue. Insightful original essays approach the topic from legal, historical, cultural, and social science perspectives to show the ways that the death penalty is racialized, the places in the death penalty process where race makes a difference, and the ways that meanings of race in the United States are constructed in and through our practices of capital punishment.

From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State not only uncovers the ways that race influences capital punishment, but also attempts to situate the linkage between race and the death penalty in the history of this country, in particular the history of lynching. In its probing examination of how and why the connection between race and the death penalty has been so strong throughout American history, this book forces us to consider how the death penalty gives meaning to race as well as why the racialization of the death penalty is uniquely American.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Ogeltree and Sarat combine the most severe criminal punishment with the bugaboo of racial class and prejudice in their book From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State. The professors astutely note that the death penalty is often used as a club to keep poor and desperate minorities in line in the larger white society.”
-Black Issues Book Review

“Professors Charles Ogletree and Austin Sarat gather an impressive lineup between racial politics in America and the killing of African-Americans.”
-Harvard Law Review

“The authors give the nation an unflinching view of the shameful influence of racism in death penalty cases. This is a must read for anyone who cares about fairness in application of the death penalty and respect for the rule of law in our modern society.”
-Senator Edward M. Kennedy

“Expertly dissects the racist underpinnings of capital punishment while pushing some intellectual boundaries.”
-International Socialist Review

“An elegant compendium of essays written by sociologists, historians, criminologists, and lawyers. The essays starkly reveal how this country’s death penalty has its roots in lynchings, and how it operates to sustain a racist agenda.”
-The Federal Lawyer

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. is Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. Previous collaborations for NYU Press with Austin Sarat include From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America (2006), When Law Fails: Making Sense of Miscarraiges of Justice (2009), and The Road to Abolition? The Future of Capital Punishment in the United States (2010).

Austin Sarat is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College. Previous collaborations for NYU Press with Charles J. Ogletree include From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America (2006), When Law Fails: Making Sense of Miscarraiges of Justice (2009), and The Road to Abolition? The Future of Capital Punishment in the United States (2010).

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Table of Contents

Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., and Austin Sarat
Part I : The Meaning and Significance of Race in the Culture of Capital Punishment
1 Capital Punishment as Legal Lynching?
Timothy V. Kaufman-Osborn
2 Making Race Matter in Death Matters
Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.
3 Traces of Slavery: Race and the Death Penalty in Historical Perspective
Stuart Banner
Part II : Race and the Death Penalty Process
4 The Role of Victim’s Race and Geography on Death Sentencing: Some Recent Data from Illinois
Michael L. Radelet and Glenn L. Pierce
5 Death in “Whiteface”: Modern Race Minstrels, Official Lynching, and the Culture of American Apartheid
Benjamin Fleury-Steiner
6 Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Life-and-Death
Decision Making: Lessons from Laypersons in an Experimental Setting
Mona Lynch
Part III : Race, Politics, and the Death Penalty
7 Discrimination, Death, and Denial: The Tolerance of Racial Discrimination in Infliction of the Death Penalty
Stephen B. Bright
8 The Rhetoric of Race in the “New Abolitionism”
Austin Sarat

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