Death Penalty in the USA

Essay, 2002

7 Pages, Grade: 1-


Various attitudes and passions like racism, revenge, religion and political power have supported the imposition of the death penalty.

The aim of this paper is answer the question whether the media, Christian religion and the policy of the United States of America bear full responsibility for the existence and the ongoing justification of the death penalty. These three institutions possess huge influence on the peoples´ opinions and form the three pillars of US pride. I will try to find my personal answer through isolating these pillars and explaining their efforts to evade the often required abolition of the death penalty.

There is no execution in the USA that is not accompanied by demonstrators - opponents as well as proponents.

So it was only a matter of time until the popular press recognized the controversial topic “death penalty” as their new pecuniary resource. “When citizens are confronted with the issue of capital punishment, be they jury members or other by – standers, they decide if death as punishment is applicable in that single case, or, more broadly, if it is in the interest of society at all. By – standers are not, in fact, neutral or impartial. As human beings they are shaped by their world outlook.”[1]

As we all know the media plays a major role in this outlook and it is easy for them to indoctrinate peoples´ minds with their conviction of right and wrong.

The media tells us, sometimes subtly, sometimes directly, what clothes to wear, what car to drive, what music to like and maybe also what “monster” to send to death row.

Murder, hate and death have always been topics that interest human beings – and it is unfortunately a part of everyday – life. News, reports and messages concerning these issues are broadcasted nationwide and through this they effect and influence public opinion.

Today many even call for the return of open executions through television coverage. Reasons for this are not only human desire for sensations but also the media that keep criminals at an emotional distance through verbal degradation that involves labelling the condemned as sub – human species, such as “monster”, “animal”, “savages” or even “murderous Negro” (if a black man is accused of murdering a white woman). Therefore the “by – standers cannot

transfer fellow –feelings to the accused because certain (…) passions like revenge, hate and abhorrence are so powerful that they block the formulation and transferral of compassion. This compassion, if it could be transferred regularly to condemned felons, would cause the end of the death penalty.”[2]

But punishing criminals, or even taking their lives, is made easier when they are categorized as “outsiders”, “non – patriots” or “atheists”. “Once this climate is established, transferral of pity and sympathy is impossible owing to the criminal´s degraded status.”[3]

As a result of this the existence of the death penalty, despite all efforts, can be explained in liberal democracies and it is not astonishing that public support for the death penalty is still remarkably high in the United States.

And unfortunately it is up to the media if a criminal is “justly” degraded because of his act or because of his race, ethnicity or other factors which makes him an outsider. One can argue about the question if this is freedom or arbitrariness of the press.

The peoples´ opinion is mostly dominated by emotions which lead immediately to the injustice of racism and that again to an unfair practice of the death penalty. This topic is seen in black and white – hate against murderers turns into hate against black murderers, often through the “help” of inflammatory speeches by politicians during election campaigns.

Statistics show that the United States applies the death penalty differently to people of different races. Look at the numbers: “Although African-Americans constitute only 13 percent of the American population, since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, African-Americans account for 35 percent of those executed and 43 percent of those who wait on death row nationwide. Although only 50 percent of murder victims are white, fully 84 percent of the victims in death penalty cases were white. Since 1976, America has executed 11 whites for killing a Black, but has executed 144 Blacks for killing a white.”[4]


[1] See : Gary Anderson, The Competing Attitudes, Passions and Interests of the Death Penalty ( Aachen : Shaker Verlag, 1996) 9.

[2] See footnote 1.

[3] Anderson, 10.

[4] Russ Feingold used these statistics in his speech at Columbia University School of Law in April 2000

Excerpt out of 7 pages


Death Penalty in the USA
University of Potsdam  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
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ISBN (Book)
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Death, Penalty, USA, Todesstrafe, Amerika, Nordamerika
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M.A. Nicole Gast (Author), 2002, Death Penalty in the USA, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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