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

NYU Press
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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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About the author

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).

Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. is the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. He is the author of All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education (WW Norton and Company, 2004) and Co-Author of From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America.

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Additional Information

Publisher
NYU Press
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Published on
May 1, 2006
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Pages
320
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ISBN
9780814769799
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Law / Discrimination
Political Science / Human Rights
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Austin Sarat
Since 1989, there have been over 200 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States. On the surface, the release of innocent people from prison could be seen as a victory for the criminal justice system: the wrong person went to jail, but the mistake was fixed and the accused set free. A closer look at miscarriages of justice, however, reveals that such errors are not aberrations but deeply revealing, common features of our legal system.

The ten original essays in When Law Fails view wrongful convictions not as random mistakes but as organic outcomes of a misshaped larger system that is rife with faulty eyewitness identifications, false confessions, biased juries, and racial discrimination. Distinguished legal thinkers Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., and Austin Sarat have assembled a stellar group of contributors who try to make sense of justice gone wrong and to answer urgent questions. Are miscarriages of justice systemic or symptomatic, or are they mostly idiosyncratic? What are the broader implications of justice gone awry for the ways we think about law? Are there ways of reconceptualizing legal missteps that are particularly useful or illuminating? These instructive essays both address the questions and point the way toward further discussion.

When Law Fails reveals the dramatic consequences as well as the daily realities of breakdowns in the law’s ability to deliver justice swiftly and fairly, and calls on us to look beyond headline-grabbing exonerations to see how failure is embedded in the legal system itself. Once we are able to recognize miscarriages of justice we will be able to begin to fix our broken legal system.

Contributors: Douglas A. Berman, Markus D. Dubber, Mary L. Dudziak, Patricia Ewick, Daniel Givelber, Linda Ross Meyer, Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Austin Sarat, Jonathan Simon, and Robert Weisberg.

Imani Perry
For a nation that often optimistically claims to be post-racial, we are still mired in the practices of racial inequality that plays out in law, policy, and in our local communities. One of two explanations is often given for this persistent phenomenon: On the one hand, we might be hypocritical—saying one thing, and doing or believing another; on the other, it might have little to do with us individually but rather be inherent to the structure of American society.

More Beautiful and More Terrible compels us to think beyond this insufficient dichotomy in order to see how racial inequality is perpetuated. Imani Perry asserts that the U.S. is in a new and distinct phase of racism that is “post-intentional”: neither based on the intentional discrimination of the past, nor drawing upon biological concepts of race. Drawing upon the insights and tools of critical race theory, social policy, law, sociology and cultural studies, she demonstrates how post-intentional racism works and maintains that it cannot be addressed solely through the kinds of structural solutions of the Left or the values arguments of the Right. Rather, the author identifies a place in the middle—a space of “righteous hope”—and articulates a notion of ethics and human agency that will allow us to expand and amplify that hope.

To paraphrase James Baldwin, when talking about race, it is both more terrible than most think, but also more beautiful than most can imagine, with limitless and open-ended possibility. Perry leads readers down the path of imagining the possible and points to the way forward.

Austin Sarat
The way a society punishes demonstrates its commitment to standards of judgment and justice, its distinctive views of blame and responsibility, and its particular way of responding to evil. Punishment in Popular Culture examines the cultural presuppositions that undergird America’s distinctive approach to punishment and analyzes punishment as a set of images, a spectacle of condemnation. It recognizes that the semiotics of punishment is all around us, not just in the architecture of the prison, or the speech made by a judge as she sends someone to the penal colony, but in both “high” and “popular” culture iconography, in novels, television, and film. This book brings together distinguished scholars of punishment and experts in media studies in an unusual juxtaposition of disciplines and perspectives. Americans continue to lock up more people for longer periods of time than most other nations, to use the death penalty, and to racialize punishment in remarkable ways. How are these facts of American penal life reflected in the portraits of punishment that Americans regularly encounter on television and in film? What are the conventions of genre which help to familiarize those portraits and connect them to broader political and cultural themes? Do television and film help to undermine punishment's moral claims? And how are developments in the boarder political economy reflected in the ways punishment appears in mass culture? Finally, how are images of punishment received by their audiences? It is to these questions that Punishment in Popular Culture is addressed.
Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.
The work at hand for bridging the racial divide in the United States From Baltimore and Ferguson to Flint and Charleston, the dream of a post-racial era in America has run up against the continuing reality of racial antagonism. Current debates about affirmative action, multiculturalism, and racial hate speech reveal persistent uncertainty and ambivalence about the place and meaning of race – and especially the black/white divide – in American culture. They also suggest that the work of racial reconciliation remains incomplete. Racial Reconciliation and the Healing of a Nation seeks to assess where we are in that work, examining sources of continuing racial antagonism among blacks and whites. It also highlights strategies that promise to promote racial reconciliation in the future. Rather than revisit arguments about the importance of integration, assimilation, and reparations, the contributors explore previously unconsidered perspectives on reconciliation between blacks and whites. Chapters connect identity politics, the rhetoric of race and difference, the work of institutions and actors in those institutions, and structural inequities in the lives of blacks and whites to our thinking about tolerance and respect. Going beyond an assessment of the capacity of law to facilitate racial reconciliation, Racial Reconciliation and the Healing of a Nation challenges readers to examine social, political, cultural, and psychological issues that fuel racial antagonism, as well as the factors that might facilitate racial reconciliation.
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