This coming Thursday, Oklahoma is scheduled to execute Benjamin Cole for the 2002 murder of his infant daughter (though his lawyers have sought a stay from SCOTUS based on claims of incompetency). Remarkably, Oklahoma has another 20+ executions scheduled for the next two years, with almost one execution scheduled for every month through 2024. These plans appear to have prompted the folks at the Death Penalty Information Center to produce this big new report titled “Deeply Rooted: How Racial History Informs Oklahoma’s Death Penalty.” Here is the text of the report’s conclusion:
Oklahoma is at an inflection point in its administration of the death penalty. The state can continue executing people affected by what many Oklahomans consider a broken system or implement reforms that have been proposed by bipartisan advocates for years. A shift away from the death penalty may even be more aligned with Oklahomans’ views on the issue, as recent surveys have shown a decline in support for the death penalty. In addition, more than half of Oklahomans surveyed in 2015 revealed they would support abolishing capital punishment if the state replaced the death penalty with the alternative sanction of life without parole, plus restitution.
Systemic issues in the state’s use of the death penalty affect all capital defendants. However, the impact is skewed based on the race of defendant and victim, and the effects are particularly harsh on defendants of color. People of color are more likely to be victims of police misconduct and violence; they are more likely to suffer from the effects of having all-white or nearly all-white juries; and they are at greater risk of being executed if they have intellectual disabilities. Additionally, the higher rate of death sentencing for cases involving white victims illustrates the enhanced punishment for those accused of crimes against white people that has been evident since the heyday of lynchings. Despite documented problems with the administration of Oklahoma’s death penalty, courts are largely unwilling to rectify them, leaving few options for relief. If Oklahoma is to establish a fair and humane system of justice, it is crucial to acknowledge and redress the lingering effects of Jim Crow and racial violence on the state’s administration of the death penalty.